Alvin Ailey Critic Review Essay
Alvin Ailey Critic Review
THE audience wouldn’t stop cheering when Judith Jamison danced Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece ”Cry” at its premiere on May 4, 1971, at City Center. ”They went crazy,” Ms. Jamison says. Ms. Jamison, the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater since Ailey’s death in 1989, recalled that night in an interview one afternoon last month. She remembers the dancer Dudley Williams’s rushing to congratulate her afterward, having been worried she wouldn’t make it through. A 16-minute solo would be daunting under any circumstances, but ”Cry,” choreographed by Ailey ”for all black women everywhere — especially our mothers,” intensifies the challenge with its resonant emotional content.
The three-part work, set to popular and gospel music by Alice Coltrane, Laura Nyro and Chuck Griffin, depicts a woman’s journey through the agonies of slavery to an ecstatic state of grace. Knowing Ms. Jamison’s strengths, Ailey had made it for her and as a birthday present for his mother. He phoned Ms. Jamison the morning after the first performance. ” ‘You’re in headlines in The Times,’ Alvin told me,” she says. ‘Clive Barnes calls you a triumph.’ ” Awakened from a deep sleep, she responded, ”O.K., thanks, I’m a little tired.” She didn’t know it then, but overnight she had become a star. In time, ”Cry” became her signature piece.
Since the premiere of ”Cry,” its mystique has grown and no dancer assumes the role without fear and pride — fear that she won’t be up to its physical and dramatic requirements and pride that she has been selected to perform a work almost sacred to the company and its fans. The chosen — there have been about 20 — even win a special designation: ” ‘Cry’ girls.” During the company’s annual five-week season beginning on Wednesday at City Center, Dwana Adiaha Smallwood and Linda-Denise Evans will dance Ailey’s tour de force. To hear Ms. Jamison explain what it takes to do ”Cry” is to understand the dancers’ apprehension. ”I choose women for the ballet who can carry its weight,” she says. ”They must be able to fill the stage from the very beginning.
They must understand their individuality and dig down deep to deliver something new to the audience. That secret self has to come out. There’s no hiding place. Technically, they must be polished because the dance involves several techniques. And they must use their dignity, vulnerability and passion. They have the pressure of ‘Cry’s’ history — Alvin’s intention and my association with it. Then, on top of everything, I’m their boss. They need strength to deal with all that.” Smiling, she adds, ”They also must breathe.” Ms. Jamison remembers Ailey’s teaching her ”Cry” in the company’s original studios on East 59th Street. ”It took Alvin eight days to choreograph,” she says. ”He never even told me about the dedication; I didn’t know until I read the program notes. He just showed me certain things. Our musicality was always very close.
He wonderfully combined movement and emotion, so little explanation was necessary. I was to be a woman who did the most servile of work but was never defeated by it. I was a mother protecting her children. I was a queen who’d come from Africa.” Ailey gave her specific images, one of them from a photograph in Life magazine of a starving woman during the famine in Biafra, with a baby in her lap, her arms outstretched, silently screaming. ”He got on the floor,” she says, ”to show me what it should look like and told me that at that moment the audience should be shocked by the woman’s pain.” Ailey got his ideas everywhere. Ms. Jamison didn’t realize until she was doing a certain movement that it was something they’d seen together on a company tour to Zaire in 1967, when young dancers from the countryside performed for them in a local bar.
The opening night of ”Cry” was a dancer’s nightmare. Ailey had given Ms. Jamison the ballet only in sections; she’d never danced it straight through. Trying on her costume for the first time at the technical rehearsal, she discovered with alarm that it had a high waist. ”I’m big breasted,” she laughs, ”and I looked like Mt. Rushmore. Alvin knew my heart was sinking.” So rather than do a complete run-through, she spent the afternoon trying to find a costume replacement. Ailey sent someone to buy two long-sleeved leotards with boat necks — two because the sleeves of one wouldn’t have been long enough for her arms. (Ms. Jamison is 5 foot 10 inches tall.) The two were sewed together, and over that she wore her skirt from the ”Wading in the Water” section of ”Revelations.” ”Do you know how many washings it had gone through?” she asks. ”It was like tissue paper.”
The skirt was then sewed to the leotard. ”Once I was in it,” she says dourly, ”I was in it.” Her ordeal didn’t end there. As she danced and began to sweat, the costume started slipping down. In more than one way, her performance deserved an ovation. Fortunately, costumes are no longer a problem and the ” ‘Cry’ girls” can give full attention to the work. They begin the process by learning the movements from a dancer who has performed it. Recently, Nasha Thomas-Schmitt, a company member since 1986 who is now director of arts in education and national director of Ailey Camp, has been the designated ”Cry” teacher. ”One of the hardest things to do is not to finish the dance looking exhausted,” says Ms. Thomas-Schmitt, who danced the role for many years.
”I tell the dancers to conserve their energy and build slowly, otherwise they’ll end up with their bodies on one side of the stage and their lungs on the other.” Once they’ve mastered the movements, Ms. Jamison steps in to coach. ”I don’t want them to copy me, which is why I don’t teach it,” she says. ”I give them images and shapes.” The women selected for ”Cry” often feel intimidated at first. In 1995, just two years after Ms. Smallwood joined the company, Ms. Jamison asked her to perform the ballet. ”I’m 23, what can I bring to it?” Ms. Smallwood recalls responding. She told only her mother of the honor, saying, ”You should be the one doing this piece.” Her mother said: ”You just have to dig deep. Little do you know, but you already have what’s necessary in you.” Ms. Smallwood did find a way into the character. ”I learned how to pull from a whole lot of different women,” she says, ”every woman who has helped me grow.” It’s not surprising that a ballet with such an aura should also inspire rituals.
Ms. Smallwood, like Ms. Thomas-Schmitt before her, avoids all idle conversation before its performance. ”Silence is my way of getting at the truth,” she says. Nourishment also has its place. Ms. Thomas-Schmitt ate steak the night before and pasta two hours before a performance. Ms. Smallwood takes vitamins around 5 p.m., ”so they’ll kick in on time.” And during every performance, she says her mother’s name. Renee Robinson, who began doing ”Cry” in 1988, says: ”Usually before we ‘Cry’ ladies are scheduled for the ballet we go into a ‘thing’ a day or two before. When you get older, you handle it better.” The piece also takes it toll physically. ”There are three syndromes you can get,” Ms. Smallwood says, ” ‘Cry head’ and ‘Cry back’ and ‘Cry knees,’ all from movements in the piece.
The company’s physical therapist knows them all well. My knees don’t get bloody anymore from crawling because I know to get my skirt under there.” For Ms. Evans, ”Cry” is like a therapy session. ”No matter what I’m feeling that day,” she says, ”I can use it when I dance. I’m not one to talk about the more painful things in my life, but in ‘Cry’ I can get them off my chest.” She often thinks of her parents, both of whom have been blind all their lives. ”I didn’t even realize until after I had my baby all the struggles they must have gone through,” she says. The physical drain kicks in the day after a performance. ”I’m always a little under the weather,” she says. ”It’s such a vast work, an entire history in 16 minutes. It’s like doing a decathlon.”
Even with all her experience in ”Cry,” Ms. Robinson still finds the piece difficult musically. ”There are so many instruments to hear,” she says, ”which makes phrasing complicated. You have to move in between the melody. There’s also the high-energy demand of the last section, where you must cover so much space.” But with age, she does understand it better. ”I’ll think now, ‘Oh, so that’s what this means,’ ” she says. Why does ”Cry” move people so deeply? Ms. Robinson pauses only a moment before answering, ”Its simplicity.” What every dancer stresses is its significance. Ms. Smallwood says: ”People truly do not understand the strength of women. Their weaknesses are their strengths; their struggles are their strengths. ‘Cry’ cannot be danced enough.” Valerie Gladstone’s most recent article for Arts & Leisure was about Christian Holder’s new ballet, ”Weren’t We Fools?,” for American Ballet Theater.
Use of quotes from relevant people/sources throughout the review
Writing a Critical Review
The advice in this brochure is a general guide only. We strongly recommend that you also follow your assignment instructions and seek clarification from your lecturer/tutor if needed. Purpose of a critical review
The critical review is a writing task that asks you to summarise and evaluate a text. The critical review can be of a book, a chapter, or a journal article. Writing the critical review usually requires you to read the selected text in detail and to also read other related texts so that you can present a fair and reasonable evaluation of the selected text. What is meant by critical?
At university, to be critical does not mean to criticise in a negative manner. Rather it requires you to question the information and opinions in a text and present your evaluation or judgement of the text. To do this well, you should attempt to understand the topic from different perspectives (i.e. read related texts) and in relation to the theories, approaches and frameworks in your course. What is meant by evaluation or judgement?
Here you decide the strengths and weaknesses of a text. This is usually based on specific criteria. Evaluating requires an understanding of not just the content of the text, but also an understanding of a text’s purpose, the intended audience and why it is structured the way it is. What is meant by analysis?
Analysing requires separating the content and concepts of a text into their main components and then understanding how these interrelate, connect and possibly influence each other.
Structure of a Critical Review
Critical reviews, both short (one page) and long (four pages), usually have a similar structure. Check your assignment instructions for formatting and structural specifications. Headings are usually optional for longer reviews and can be helpful for the reader. Introduction
The length of an introduction is usually one paragraph for a journal article review and two or three paragraphs for a longer book review. Include a few opening sentences that announce the author(s) and the title, and briefly explain the topic of the text. Present the aim of the text and summarise the main finding or key argument. Conclude the introduction with a brief statement of your evaluation of the text. This can be a positive or negative evaluation or, as is usually the case, a mixed response. Summary
Present a summary of the key points along with a limited number of examples. You can also briefly explain the author’s purpose/intentions throughout the text and you may briefly describe how the text is organised. The summary should only make up about a third of the critical review. Critique
The critique should be a balanced discussion and evaluation of the strengths, weakness and notable features of the text. Remember to base your discussion on specific criteria. Good reviews also include other sources to support your evaluation (remember to reference). You can choose how to sequence your critique. Here are some examples to get you started: Most important to least important conclusions you make about the text. If your critique is more positive than negative, then present the negative points first and the positive last. If your critique is more negative than positive, then present the positive points first and the negative last. If there are both strengths and weakness for each criterion you use, you need to decide overall what your judgement is.
For example, you may want to comment on a key idea in the text and have both positive and negative comments. You could begin by stating what is good about the idea and then concede and explain how it is limited in some way. While this example shows a mixed evaluation, overall you are probably being more negative than positive. In long reviews, you can address each criteria you choose in a paragraph, including both negative and positive points. For very short critical reviews (one page or less) where your comments will be briefer, include a paragraph of positive aspects and another of negative. You can also include recommendations for how the text can be improved in terms of ideas, research approach; theories or frameworks used can also be included in the critique section. Conclusion
This is usually a very short paragraph.
Restate your overall opinion of the text.
Briefly present recommendations.
If necessary some further qualification or explanation of your judgement can be included.
This can help your critique sound fair and reasonable.