Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Performed Dec. 12, 2013
New York City Center
As one of the most nationally recognizable dance companies, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has a reputation to uphold. Now in its 41st year as a Resident Company of New York City Center, the Ailey company’s performance season has become a New York City tradition, inviting audiences from all walks of life to see dance as Mr. Ailey saw it, as an art form for all humanity.
People flock to Ailey performances for a number of reasons – the unmatched athleticism of the dancers, the timeless music that accompanies much of Mr. Ailey’s choreography, and more recently, the company’s quickly expanding repertory. Since becoming Artistic Director in 2011, Robert Battle has made incorporating new and classic modern dance works a priority, as Thursday evening’s performance proved. In addition to Mr. Ailey’s masterpiece Revelations, the company also performed Another Night, a 2012 commission by 2013 MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant awardee Kyle Abraham, In/Side, one of Mr. Battle’s own pieces choreographed during the Battleworks era, and Jiří Kylián’s much loved Petite Mort. Though it proved challenging at times to cover such a diverse range of techniques in this repertory, the Ailey company danced like we all knew they could – with fervor, exuberance, and undeniable passion.
The program opened with Abraham’s contribution to the Ailey rep. Set to a recording of “A Night in Tunisia” by Dizzy Gillespie, the piece suits the Ailey dancers well. There are few moments of rest in the fast-paced yet fluid choreography, and with the color-coordinating costumes between the men and women, the piece is reminiscent of Doug Varone’s Fearful Symmetries, in a good way. The dancers moved effortlessly from the floor to the air, and Abraham did well to take advantage of their seemingly endless stamina. As the piece transitioned between solos (with the impressive opening danced by Jacqueline Green), group sections, duets, and trios, the dancers kept the underlying groove alive. The constant motion became a bit repetitive by the middle section, but the dancers’ spunk carried the excitement through to the end.
Mr. Battle’s acceptance of the Artistic Director position at Ailey marked the end of Battleworks (to the dismay of many), but thankfully, a few of his pieces, including In/Side, have survived the changeover. Compared to Another Night, Mr. Battle’s In/Side was visually sparse. The solo, set to Nina Simone’s achingly beautiful rendition of “Wild is the Wind,” was danced by Kirven Douthit-Boyd, who seemed to move as if his life depended on it. The solo opened with Douthit-Boyd gingerly side-stepping across the stage, but the notion of caution disappeared almost immediately, as he fell backwards at a harrowing angle, landing supine before the audience. As Simone croons about the love she desires, Mr. Battle’s choreography fittingly takes on exposure and longing, but is a little too sappy, especially for a dancer of this caliber.
Petite Mort likewise fell slightly short of expectations; ironically, it seemed liked this was the piece many audience members had come to see. Yes, the choreography was executed nearly perfectly in terms of timing and position, but the Ailey dancers put too many sharp edges on Kylián’s movement. The last couple to dance, Sarah Daley and Jermaine Terry, captured the softness and delicacy of this choreography best, but overall, compared to the otherworldly fluidity of Nederlans Dans Theatre (for whom the piece was created in 1991), the Ailey dancers attacked this piece in the same way they’ve been trained to attack Mr. Ailey’s athletic choreography.
Luckily, the company’s outstanding performance of Revelations quickly brushed away any doubts about the previous pieces. After 53 years, the piece has become memorialized by its many iconic moments, including Akua Noni Parker’s impeccable promenade in écarté during “Fix Me Jesus.” To see the dancers smile and laugh with each other onstage takes this piece from a sequence of choreographed steps to a sort of love letter to the memory of Mr. Ailey, showing just how much this piece means to these dancers and their audiences. By the end of the night, the overwhelming feeling in the theater was of gratitude – for the dancers, for the faithful audience, and for Mr. Ailey’s gift to New York City.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at New York City Center through January 5, 2014. For more information and a season schedule, click here.