Last Monday night, I was fortunate enough to review the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the first time. Below is my review.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Artistic Director: Robert Battle
Associate Artistic Director: Masazumi Chaya
Presented by Carolina Performing Arts
Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC
February 13, 2012
In the first of a two-night run at Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall, the members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater gave a breathtaking performance. The night’s lineup included Paul Taylor’s “Arden Court,” Rennie Harris’s “Home,” Joyce Trisler’s “Journey,” and Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations.” Each piece showcased the company members’ technical excellence, but also their ability to deeply connect to the work that they perform. The latter was especially evident in “Home” and “Revelations.”
Monday night’s performance opened with “Arden Court,” a virtuosic work with an understated playful tone. Set to a classical music score by William Boyce, six bare chested men leapt, kicked and ran in characteristic Taylor style early in the piece. Long lines in the arms and legs, calculated directional intent and symmetrical spacing onstage gave the piece a crisp feeling, but brief breaks of character made the dancers seem more human. Three women were slowly introduced into the piece through a series of duets, and were eventually showcased in a complicated string of choreography centerstage. Proving they could keep up with the men, the women executed double pike jumps, flawless turns and fast footwork both in ripples and in unison. “Arden Court” ended with overlapping passes of partner cartwheels, lifts, flips, and even a few switch leaps. Though some of the final dance vocabulary seemed out-of-place, the Ailey dancers gave the work a strong finish.
The Ailey company members brought a smooth groove to the theater with “Home,” adding their breath, spirit and physical drive to a percussive, bass-heavy audio track. Big jumps, rhythmic footwork and break dance vocabulary pushed the piece forward in a powerful way, while moments of inward focus kept the work feeling unrushed. Harris often showcased multiple groups onstage at the same time, each dancing in time with a different part of the music. Waacking, Voguing and Salsa dance vocabulary made brief appearances during this choreographically dense masterwork, which straddled the line between club dancing and praise dancing. The dancers ended the piece in what looked like a tree formation, but what was, in reality, a human sculpture with breath and energy all of its own.
“Journey,” a solo for a woman in white, effectively honed the audience’s focus before the visual feast that was “Revelations.” Dancer Jacqueline Green appeared almost ethereal, moving slowly and shifting dynamics quickly in her draped, flowing costume. Green moved through deep plies, lunges and arabesques in a slow, tempered manner; her execution was flawless except for one moment of instability as she rose out of an inverted arabesque. After hearing a trumpet call, Green moved slowly offstage through a diagonal panel of light as the lights went down on the six-minute piece.
If the audience wasn’t yet convinced of the spirit, grace and technical prowess of the Ailey company at this point in the concert, “Revelations” sealed the deal. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s capstone work was cinematic in nature, taking the audience on a journey through varying levels of spirituality as traditional gospel hymnals and spirituals boomed through the Hall. Emotional solos, duets and trios nicely offset larger company numbers, creating a natural flow from section to section. Throughout the entire piece, the Ailey company members moved with a fierce attention to detail and with 100 percent emotional investment in the work as a whole; February 13th’s performance undoubtedly maintained the integrity of this iconic dance masterpiece.
Though the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s place in American history and culture is untouchable, the company members are anything but inaccessible; their dancing is sure to touch the hearts of audience members worldwide for years to come.