Every year for the last two decades, Chicago turns out to testify for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, America’s world class dance company that revels in and reveals the African American experience. This year, Roosevelt University and the Auditorium Theatre awarded Ailey dance legend and company director Judith Jamison with the second Eleanor Roosevelt award to kick off a luminous night of Ailey classics. The 62-year-old ensemble first visited Chicago in 1969 when Jamison was the lead performer. The world has changed so much but what was rich and beautiful and inspiring about the company then has remained and stood the test of time.
The evening began with the revival of Jamison’s expansive 1984 work entitled Divining, set to music by Kimati Dinizulu and Monti Ellison combining a kind of electronic dawning with got-to-move percussion. Four dancers move sinuously and in unison using the signature Ailey style: grounded, reaching energetically out into space, using hips and back, often with bare feet and all motion sculpted with technical skill and grace. Ailey’s movement vocabulary took classical style and rooted it in the earth with an African sensibility. These dancers are not sylphs: they are powerful and empowered. A solo by Ghrai DeVore-Stokes is reflective and virtuosic. Finally the ensemble arrives using their feet to beat a score, utilizing isolations of the pelvis drawn directly from African dance, flaring legs in a swirl that is regularly seen in Praise dance, and locomoting with a decided strut that is exhilarating to watch.
The second work, A Case of You (named after the Joni Mitchell song, sung here by Diana Krall) also by Jamison, from 2005, is a duet about a complicated relationship. Dancers Jacqueline Green and Jamar Roberts weave around and through each other, utilizing a red scarf as a flirtatious device and a prison. The dynamic of the relationship is clearly passionate and beautifully articulated.
We return from intermission to Lar Lubavitch’s delicious Fandango (1990), where long-locked Danica Paulos and short-cropped Clifton Brown dance a languorous ritual of human origami to Ravel’s Bolero. The two fold, manipulate, entwine, wrap, and toss like a kind of sexy Rubik’s cube. The work seems to borrow from contact improvisational ideas of weight sharing and surprise but there is nothing haphazard about this dance. The two play like puppies on the jungle gym of each other’s body. It is a masterpiece of a duet.
Finally, we arrive at Ailey’s master work, the company signature, Revelations. This dance is a church meeting, a baptism, a testament, a spiritual set on bodies, and a witness to the joy and sorrow that make up the history of African Americans in this racially divided nation. The work is an embodiment of hope and joy. Set to traditional music, the ten sections have a brilliant architecture, a use of astounding technique, and an energy that spreads out to the theater until we leap to our feet. Revelations is the ultimate Praise Dance and aspects of it have been quoted and copied since it was first performed in 1960 at the height of the Civil Rights movement. The work appears different now when we are not as naïve as a nation, but it remains a love letter to Black America, its history, beauty and talent.
If you hurry, you can still catch one of the programs (there are four and all feature Revelations) this weekend at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive, through Sunday, March 8. Prices range from $35 to $140 with family discounts. Depending on the program, running time is approximately two hours with an intermission. For tickets and information go to https://tickets.auditoriumtheatre.org/production/2420/alvin-ailey or call 312-341-2310.