Review: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Dazzles with New Work and Treasured Classics

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is the platinum standard of Black culture in dance. A production from Alvin Ailey captures many facets of art and is much more than a dance presentation. The choice of music sets the tone for what the dance will be. This tour presented new works from the company and some burnished classics on two separate programs. I had seen Revelations in past performances so I chose the newer works and was gratified to see the birth of new classics worthy of the name.

Alvin Ailey is known for a complete experience of art where the music, scenery, and lighting are integral to the dance. Me, Myself, and You is a world premiere with James Gilmer and Coral Dolphin. Yi-Chung Chen's moody blend of blue and violet lighting with Brandie Sutton singing the dance title by Duke Ellington created the perfect elements for a sensuous dance. Choreographer Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish also created the scenic design with Joseph Anthony Gaito. The stage becomes a character in a poignant reminiscence. Dolphin and Gilmer melt into each other creating a single form and morphing into another. Sutton's husky soprano matched the climactic movements and embraces.

James Gilmer and Coral Dolphin. Photo by Paul Kolnick.

Solo is a showcase for the Ailey men and choreographed by Hans van Manen. The music by Johann Sebastian Bach was a delightful score for a performance similar to a dance-off but much more elegant. The dancers moved in and out of the scenery with their entire bodies engaged. Their heads bobbed as they glided across the stage. It was smooth and visually beautiful. The moves harken back to the '70s pop-locking rage with Music of the Baroque gone punk. Some movements were like stop motion where they would hold poses and then burst into another movement.

The return after the intermission was called Following the Subtle Current Upstream and was choreographed by Alonzo King. The music was a combination of Zakir Hussain, Miguel Frasconi, and the luminous Miriam Makeba. Bells, drums, and singing bowls produced a trancelike soundtrack for the dancers' deliberate movements akin to a more rhythmic tai-chi. The tempo picked up and each dancer in the company had a solo dance. It became a jubilant dance—a corporeal "getting into the spirit" where the music and the dance took over.

Right before the finale, there was a beautiful solo dance that was an homage to the gospel themes of the Ailey canon. The music was Richard Smallwood's "Total Praise," a contemporary gospel classic with a stunning crescendo at the end. The dance was not listed in the program. It was a gentle piano piece and the opposite of the choral version. I could hear people softly singing and one person was weeping. The dancer's moves epitomized beseeching and a physical reaction in gratitude to the Spirit.

Ashley Green, Samantha Figgins, and Ashley Mayeaux. Phot by Paul Kolnick.

The finale was titled Century and it was a full-blast dance to orchestral jazz by Count Basie and Duke Ellington. The opener was Ray Charles singing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" as I had never heard. The costumes by Susan Roemer featured feathers, stripes, vests, and gold dance shoes. Nicole Pearce's lighting and scenic design took me back to the beloved variety shows of the mid-20th century. The shiny curtain reflected deep red, purple, and gold enhancing Amy Hall Garner's choreography. The dancers did swing jazz and meticulous freestyle. It was a foot-stomping finale that brought the audience to its feet.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed in Chicago April 17-21 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive. The Auditorium Theatre is continuing the dance series in 2024 and 2025. Visit the website www.auditoriumtheatre.org for details on what promises to be a series of dance companies from all over the world. For information on Alvin Ailey, please visit www.alvinailey.org.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.