Celebrity Series of Boston presents Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater every spring, just as the city starts to pop open and come alive. Like the host city, the company is full of life. And like Boston Public Garden down the street, the thrill is in the feeling of power underscoring what we see on the surface. In ballet, dancers make choreography look effortless when it requires the most precision. With Alvin Ailey, they make it look loose when it is tight and most precise. This is the first time Boston has seen the troupe under their new Artistic Director, Robert Battle.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Kirven James Boyd and Rachael McLaren © Andrew Eccles
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Kirven James Boyd and Rachael McLaren
© Andrew Eccles

The opening piece, Home, was inspired by the “Fight HIV Your Way” initiative, in which ten stories were chosen from autobiographical essays about living with or being affected by HIV. In an article by Debra Cash, Battle speaks of telling “the other side of the story, the story of tenacity, hope. Hip-hop in its purest form represents survival.” Home, then, is not what you might expect in a dance about living with HIV. Yes, it brings Ailey's death to remembrance, but it also celebrates his life. It is the feeling of celebration that comes through most strongly. Choreographed by Rennie Harris, Home is a hip-hop piece set to gospel-laden house music, with raw and street-savvy costuming.

To get an idea of Battle's Takademe, listen to “Speaking in Tongues II” by Sheila Chandra and imagine the music personified. Danced by Kirven James Boyd, Takademe has moments of sheer virtuosity accenting the fast, percussive choreography. At his curtain speech, Battle remarked that Takademe was choreographed in a small living-room in Queens, “so it doesn't move much at first.” The choreography is condensed and compact, dictated more by the music than the real estate. Boyd's power is barely contained by the dictates of the rhythmic soundtrack.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is powerful in the sense that it moves the audience, but it is also full of power. The company wears its power on its sleeve (or bare arm, in many cases). There is an explosion just beneath the surface, threatening to blow the choreography apart. Their art is in keeping this barely-bridled power in check, and in perfect form.

In describing his piece The Hunt, Battle quipped, “it wouldn't be modern dance if there wasn't a little rage.” But The Hunt is too exuberant to aptly depict rage. There are bursts of energy that verge on violence, but primarily it's an exploration. Recorded music is by Les Tambours du Bronx and includes numbers like “Jungle Jazz” by L. Blomme. The six men were effectively costumed in long, black skirts lined in red, by designer Mia McSwain.

If you've never seen Revelations, it may still feel like an old friend. Iconic choreography like the bird-like shapes formed by the ensemble in “I Been ’Buked” has been well documented and creatively borrowed. Choreographed by Ailey in 1960, Revelations is a signature piece performed regularly by the troupe, and while some of it is dated, it never gets old. A reprise of “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” closed the night with energy and power.