A lake is a familiar setting for a ballet, though usually its shore is home to swans or Wilis. In “The Lake" section of Alvin Ailey's The River, which he choreographed for American Ballet Theatre in 1970, the dancers represent the water itself. In this clip, former ABT principal Cynthia Gregory appears clad in a simple dress of muted gray, like the color of silt stirred up from a lake's murky bottom. To the plucking strings and sonorous horns of Duke Ellington's score, she commands our attention with her swirling and confident shapes. The melody intermittently becomes a tango when Marcos Paredes and other ABT dancers join in, their bodies undulating like lapping waves. The group's level changes and the weight of Gregory's sensual lyricism evoke a lake's mysterious depths.
In its description by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the River is said to be "Ailey's allegory of birth, life and rebirth." It's a fitting role for Gregory, who emerged as a preeminent American ballerina in a time when stars were often imported from overseas. She danced with ABT from 1965 to 1975, took a yearlong hiatus, and then rejoined the company to continue her brilliant 30-year career. Happy #TBT!