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Alvin Ailey dancers reveal the perfection of simplicity

Simplicity trumps excess every time.

That observation sprang to mind after Tuesday's opening-night performance at the Wang Theatre of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, sponsored by the Bank of America Celebrity Series.

It's not that the evening's three pieces -- two of them Boston premieres -- weren't all cogently constructed, evocatively staged, and emphatically, even brilliantly, danced. Ailey's performers have historically had the technical chops and emotional tenacity to set a theater on fire, and this group -- particularly the men -- was no exception.

It's more that the purity of line and singularity of intent of Ailey's signature piece, ''Revelations," with its screeching slides and coiled guts, its lean geometry and pristine traffic, reverberated with an authenticity that the two new dances on the program, Judith Jamison's ''Reminiscin' " and Ronald K. Brown's ''Ife/My Heart," couldn't match.

''Reminiscin' " -- alternately languid and buoyant -- was inspired by Edward Hopper's stark diner painting ''Nighthawks" and by the music of female jazz artists from Sarah Vaughan to Ella Fitzgerald to Nina Simone. It's a series of dances for 11 set against Michael Fagan's sleek bar. Much of the vocabulary is familiar from other Ailey concerts -- shoulder rolls and shimmies, stag leaps and deep hinges to the floor -- with a dollop of hip-hop mixed in. What's not expected is the two strong duets that anchor the action.

To Diana Krall's throaty take on Joni Mitchell's ''A Case of You," Hope Boykin and Clifton Brown slip around and between the song's notes, filling slow passages with whip-quick gestures. At one point, Boykin rises through Brown's outstretched arms like a bubble through water. At another, she hurtles through the air and lands plastered against him, her feet smack on his hips.

In their pairing, Brown and the high-flying Kirven J. Boyd come together and split, one borne by the other and then sliding through his grip in a smoky conversation set to Roberta Flack's rendition of ''Always." The duet goes on too long, however.

In ''Ife/My Heart," Ronald K. Brown emboldened his dancers not just to enact but to live a spiritual journey onstage. To a thrumming commingling of music from Cuba, Nigeria, and North America and some poems, nine dancers execute a flurry of steps drawn largely from traditional African dance but tinged with contemporary and even pop idioms. The effect is mesmerizing, whether they're springing skyward or following the impulse of arms emanating from deep in the back. They move, it seems, not by counts or cues but from a spirit within. The concept of family is implied, as is love among its members, but the message never fully coheres.

''Revelations" may be 46 years old, but the current Ailey dancers performed it as if the piece had been choreographed for them yesterday. From the sparrow-like delicacy of Linda Celeste Sims in the section ''Fix Me, Jesus" to the contractions of Amos J. Machanic Jr. in ''I Wanna Be Ready" (which cut so deep they flipped him over), the performance showed ''Revelations" as not just a modern dance but a classical one, embracing universal standards of simplicity and proportion.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
At: the Wang Theatre, Tuesday night (through Sunday; the seven-show engagement features 12 dances, three of them Boston premieres).

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