The Alvin Ailey company very truthfully identifies as an American Dance Theater. An early beneficiary of State Department funding for overseas tours during the Cold War, Alvin Ailey’s troupe benefited not only from the financial support, but also evolved into a tight knit touring company, with a dedicated focus to Ailey’s vision. Tellingly, Alvin Ailey personally appointed company star Judith Jamison as his successor; she in turn appointed current director Robert Battle. This careful lineage is expressed in the remarkably cohesive work of the dancers. A special aspect of the company’s productions is that theatricality, full sets and costumes, which were always of most importance to Ailey himself, establish this troupe as a truly theatrical ensemble as well. An afternoon with the Ailey company is like sitting down to an elaborate spread, with just a little lagniappe sprinkled in.

Samuel Lee Roberts in <i>IN:SIDE</i> © Paul Kolnik
Samuel Lee Roberts in IN:SIDE
© Paul Kolnik

The program opened with Jamar Robert’s 2017 work Members Don’t Get Weary. This piece felt quintessentially Ailey, as the dancers moved in small formation groups, dressed in costumes (also by Roberts) which, under the varied lighting, felt alternately like clothes for field work, or potentially prison garb. Wearing large brimmed straw hats, which nearly functioned as characters in their own right, hiding faces at times, framing them as they looked skyward- and providing a cohesive suggestion of both hope and oppression. Of all the works on the program, I found this one the least moving, but I’d love to see it again, as the music (traditional Blues, with two works by John Coltrane) felt strangely hopeful in the midst of despair.

Twyla Tharp’s 1983 The Golden Section was up next. Here the pure theatricality of the Ailey tradition was on display, as the golden curtain – which could have been straight out of 1930s MGM swayed in the background. Considering when this work was first produced, at the height of the early AIDS crisis, it was fascinating to see these virile and beautifully athletic groups of men, dressed in golden briefs and long golden socks dancing with such abandon. Seen in this context, it almost appears a dance of defiance – a refusal to “go gently into that good night.” This is one of Tharp’s most enjoyable works, delightful from both an aesthetic and intellectual point of view. The dancers performed admirably, though the occasional pure balletic steps, including a leap into a fish dive, felt somewhat uncomfortable, and it is in these occasional moments that one remembers this is ultimately a contemporary company, though clearly with a fierce classical base. 

Robert Battle’s 2008 solo In/Side begins dramatically with dancer Jeroboam Bozeman crouched over facing upstage. Danced with fervent passion to Nina Simone, Bozeman had a brilliant opportunity to show his easy facility for all levels of contemporary movement, movements flowing from one nearly vertical position into turns with an uncanny ease. The audience responded passionately, with several standing ovations, as Bozeman ended by turning and walking upstage, as though he had expressed everything he could say. Indeed, this solo did cover a full and meaningful range of complex emotions; it is another work I hope to see again to fully appreciate. 

AAADT in <i>Revelations</i> © Gert Krautbauer
AAADT in Revelations
© Gert Krautbauer

And then came Revelations. What can one say about this, one of the greatest artistic masterpieces of the 20th century? This work, like the finale of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the second act pas de deux of Giselle, Hamlet’s “To be or Not to be” speech... is simply and purely a gift to the humanity. This afternoon’s performance was not the strongest I have seen the company perform this work, but it’s power was undiminished. The purity of the Ailey (Horton based) technique was evident, in the extraordinary thigh strength exhibited by the hinges that flowed effortlessly to the ground; but in the Fix Me, Jesus adagio, though Ghrai DeVore and Jermaine Terry were passionately engaged, her solo promenade in a high second position lacked the lower leg line that one would hope to see in this step.

The abrupt change to the middle section, Take me to the Water, illustrated the magic of Ailey’s theatrical sense in a wonderful way. Suddenly the stage was bright blue, and the dancers, in their flowing white costumes, seemed to be providing a deep sense of hope. Daniel Harder’s youthful appearance gave a particularly poignant touch to the I Wanna Be Ready solo. Sinner Man, typically a showstopper, was danced carefully by Solomon Dumas, Sean Aaron Carmon and Kanji Segawa. And, as always, Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham was infused with passionate joy, a fierce faith in the power of faith in God and all that is good, and brought the audience to their feet, clapping with fervor as the company encored it.