American Dance Theater
Ailey (as always) a reverent joy
|Auditorium Theatre presents|
|Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater|
Review by Lauren Whalen
As a dancer, I’m well aware of the art form’s illusions. Hours of pain and sweat go into every perfect line and well-executed step, yet the best dancers make all the work look effortless. The strongest shows make me forget. When I watch the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, I might as well have amnesia. I appreciate the flawless lines and soft landings, but mostly I feel an otherworldly joy.
Note: this is a review of the opening night performance. “Revelations” appears in every show, but other dances vary. Click here the review of last year’s performance, which included “Minus 16”.
Another Night, Kyle Abraham’s new piece, is one nonstop bounce. Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia”, as performed by Art Blakely & The Jazz Messengers, provides a score heavy on frenetic horns and percussion. Clad in Naoko Nagata’s rainbow of close-fitting costumes (so as not to obscure their artfully athletic bodies), ten dancers turn and leap in various configurations. They egg each other on, pair up and break apart with gleeful abandon. The Ailey dancers are a far cry from the uniform corps de ballet established by George Balanchine: they’re a refreshing mix of short and tall, with hair in elaborate braids and twists and shaved heads (on men and women). Standing still, they’re beautiful. In motion, they are breathtaking. Another Night strikes just the right balance of technical glory and pure fun.
While Another Night is refreshingly modern, Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort radiates royal elegance. Men do jaw-dropping things with swords, women play in and out of structured ballgowns, and the genders come together in patterns that combine the old grand pas de deux and more intimate male-female energy (the French use petite mort, or “little death”, as a euphemism for orgasm). Petite Mort is a tribute to smooth balance, the power of two and turning tradition on its head. The next piece, Strange Humors, was choreographed by Robert Battle, now Ailey’s Artistic Director. Clad only in bright orange pants, two men radiate pure testosterone in a brief but powerful battle. It’s interesting and memorable, a lead-up to the legendary piece that closes the show.
Alvin Ailey choreographed Revelations in 1960, as a tribute to his Southern religious roots. To call Revelations a “game-changer” doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’d call it a “life-changer”. Set to traditional music, Revelations is deep sadness, uplifting soul and cheeky sass. No movement is wasted: every extension is rife with yearning, every saucy flip of a hand fan elicits chuckles. In only ten songs, Ailey covers the entire human experience: from guilt (“Sinner Man”) to self-exploration (“I Wanna Be Ready”) to rebirth (“Wade in the Water”), with a healthy dose of humor (“The Day is Past and Gone”). By the closing number, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham”, the audience is on its feet, never wanting this to end. Revelations could make a believer out of an atheist. In fact, though the music focuses on God and religion, the dances are the rhythm of life.
At many dance performances, the audience is appreciative, even reverent, but restrained. Not so with Alvin Ailey: every year when the company tours through Chicago, it’s a party. Spectators hoot and holler, unable to contain their exuberance. They know they’re in the same room as something extraordinary. Look at the dancers’ faces. They know it too.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continues through March 17th at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. (map). Tickets are $32-$92, and are available by phone (800-982-2787) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at AlvinAiley.org. (Running time: 2 hours)
Dancers and program rotates with each performance. The company roster follows:
Guillermo Asca, Kirven James Boyd, Hope Boykin, Sean A. Carmon, Sarah Daley, Ghrai DeVore, Antonio Douthit, Renaldo Gardner, Vernard J. Gilmore, Jacqueline Green, Daniel Harder, Demetia Hopkins, Michael Jackson, Jr., Megan Jakel, Yannick Lebrun, Alicia Graf Mack, Michael Francis McBride, Rachael McLaren, Aisha Mitchell, Akua Noni Parker, Belen Pereyra, Briana Reed, Jamar Roberts, Samuel Lee Roberts, Kelly Robotham, Kanji Segawa, Glenn Allen Sims, Linda Celeste Sims, Jermaine Terry, Marcus Jarrell Willis
behind the scenes
Robert Battle (Artistic Director), Masazumi Chaya (Associate Artistic Director), Alvin Ailey (Founder), Judith Jamison (Artistic Director Emeritus), Bennett Rink (Executive Director), Matthew Rushing (Rehearsal Director/Guest Artist)