Is it normal for a dance company to acquire human characteristics? People talk about Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in terms they might use to describe an old friend. A history of performances attended sounds more like the trajectory of a relationship; how they were introduced, favorite memories, a few disappointments, where they stand now. There is an emotional component unique to the company and Wednesday’s program, including Memoria, D-Man in the Waters (Part I), and Minus 16, was a prime example.

D-Man in the Waters (part 1) © Paul Kolnik
D-Man in the Waters (part 1)
© Paul Kolnik

Memoria, an original work choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1979, is a tribute to the life of choreographer Joyce Trisler. Ailey’s love for his friend shines throughout the piece. Linda Celeste Sims embodies Trisler at the center of work. For the first half of the piece the audience might believe Sims is dancing without reservation. However, the difference between each section is unmistakable. Costume changes include brighter colors, a floor length red gown, broad smiles, and a feeling of lightness – especially in the way the dancers carry themselves. Memoria doesn’t ask any questions, instead it teaches about a woman’s life, how she inspired the dance community, and the beautiful legacy she left behind.

Bill T. Jones’ famous D-Man in the Waters (Part I) is another dance created in memory, this time for Demian Acquavella. Although the piece was created in 1989 and has been performed by many companies, this performance was the Ailey premier. Jones’ sharp lines and fast pace suit the Ailey dancers perfectly and, again, celebrates a life with the highest respect without being mournful. D-Man in the Waters (Part I) is playful at times, especially when dancers slide across the stage on their chests like penguins, but support is the recurring theme here. Men lift other men and women, women catch men who leap into their arms – every dancer is constantly giving and taking. Their physical contact and fluidity is a beautiful visual representation of trust and partnership. 

Minus 16 © Paul Kolnik
Minus 16
© Paul Kolnik

Finally, Minus 16 concludes the program. Choreograper Ohad Naharin combines excerpts from a number of different works, including a duet in memory of his wife, Mari Kajiwara. Minus 16 is so multifaceted that it can best be summarized as limitless. The fourth wall referred to in theater as the boundary between audience and performers is broken before the viewer is even aware what’s happening. One soloist stands in front of the curtain while the house lights are still up from intermission, staring stone-faced into the crowd. He builds his movements up to a frenzy combining dance styles from contemporary to classical. 

Each part of Minus 16 continues to challenge the audience. Repetition is used when the dancers form a semicircle around the stage, adding sections of choreography in unison while simultaneously removing articles of clothing. At one point they partner with audience members, making them part of the piece. No rule is left unbroken as the dancers must cope with both their own choreography and a partner who could surprise them with anything at any time.

Fans look forward to Alvin Ailey’s New York season at the end of every year, and performances have a reputation for getting people out of their seats. Usually Revelations, the company’s most famous work, is credited with this phenomenon. This program proves that this experience is not limited to specific choreography, it is truly part of their nature.

*****