Celebrating their 60th anniversary, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed a selection of works at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. The programs varied, with each show displaying repertoire by guest choreographers, as well as Ailey’s own choreography.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jamar Roberts' Members Don't Get Weary
© Paul Kolnik

At the matinee on Sunday, 7 April, injuries forced a last-minute substitution, with Wayne McGregor’s Kairos replaced by Members Don’t Get Weary, a work by veteran company dancer Jamar Roberts. Ten dancers clad in wide, flat-brimmed hats cast long shadows against an aquamarine backdrop while intense movement flirts with John Coltrane’s bombastic jazz. Bathed in blue which deepens to black, the movement assumes a somber tone and the lines of hatted dancers evoke workers on a slave plantation. Sensual and intimate moments punctuate athletic group segments. Roberts’ intrIcate choreography appears effortless as the dancers shift from swinging motions to gentle undulations. Members Don’t Get Weary personifies the colloquial expression “having the blues”, and the dancers wind aimlessly and directly all at once through Coltrane’s saxophone modulations and melodies.

The Call, by Ronald K. Brown, a regular with this company, blends modern and African dance. Set to music by J.S. Bach, Mary Lou Williams, and Asase Yaa Entertainment Group, it begins in a classical mindset and grows increasingly social and contemporary, deconstructing ballroom dance in its partnerings and solos. Undulating movement gives way to elements of African dance. The Call culminates in a joyous celebration of spirituality and freedom, a tribute to this company's identity.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's Shelter
© Paul Kolnik

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Shelter, on the theme of homelessness, premiered in 1988 on her company, Urban Bush Women. Ailey picked up the work in 1992, and the cast rotates between all-male and all-female dancers. This season, the performance of Shelter falls to six women. Drum music by Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn and Victor See Yuen accentuates the frantic choreography, while spoken text describes the all-too-easy process of losing one’s home. The dancers scratch and shiver in clumps before throwing themselves across the stage in desperation. Intertwined with this message is another about climate change, calling the audience to action. The dancers point outward, echoing the words “It can happen to you, too.”

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations
© Paul Kolnik

The performance ends, as every Ailey program does, anniversary or no, with Alvin Ailey’s classic Revelations. Matching African American spirituals with heaven-reaching shapes, this masterpiece showcases the gradient of human emotion, from sorrow and grief to deep joy. The first section, “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” features company dancers dressed in skin-colored costumes. They reach, bow, and genuflect with a sense of longing. “Take Me to the Water” carries through the ceremonious tone but the dancers, now clothed in white, plunge in and out of swaths of blue fabric, as of being baptised. The spiritual “I Wanna Be Ready” draws a heart-wrenching performance from Michael Francis McBride, and by the time the dancers begin the final section, “Move, Members, Move,” the audience is clapping along. By the end of the energetic “Sinner Man”, 18 dancers are filling the stage. The women don yellow dresses with floppy hats and fans, playfully teasing their men. Both movement and performance are exuberant, and the generosity of the dancers shines through their smiles and synchronized hand gestures.

AAADT's Michael Francis McBride in Alvin Ailey's Revelations
© Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform timeless works that continue to prove vibrant 60 years on. These anniversary programs present a history of modern dance in America, and challenge the future of dance to be just as diverse and enduring, as well as political and poignant.