Founded in 1958, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has become one of America’s dance treasures. The program presented on the opening night of its five-night run at the Music Center demonstrated that the company continues to produce powerful and timely works. The program included works by Hope Boykin, Kyle Abraham, Robert Battle and the company’s founder Alvin Ailey (1931-1989). The Ailey dancers are some of the finest in the business, with almost flawless technical and artistic talents.
Supported in part by commission funds from The Music Center r-Revolution, Dream was choreographed in 2016 by Hope Boykin, a 17-year company veteran. Inspired by the speeches and sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the work examines the early years of the Civil Rights Movement. The different social groups are depicted via costume colors and styles; the working-class women don aprons and one man is dressed in overalls. To distinguish the different social classes, Boykin costumed the working-class in all white or black and the higher-class folk in bright colors.
Matthew Rushing is powerful in the role of Dr. King. We watch as he slowly gains support, inspires his followers and leads an entire race in peaceful protests. The varying social groups work their way through personal prejudices to unite in one common cause. A young couple, each from a different social status, fall in love. Performed by Jacqueline Harris and Daniel Harder, it is a love story reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but with a much happier ending. An outsider, performed superbly by Mega Jakel, works to prove that her purpose of joining forces with the Movement is an honest one.
Boykin has chosen to focus on the internal struggle and politics of the Civil Rights Movement rather than the violence that followed. r-Revolution, Dream is a beautiful testament to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings and aptly demonstrates how he peacefully organized an entire generation to bring about change. The cast of dance artists portrayed the era, the internal tensions and the coming together in solidarity with passion, determination and strength. The score for r-Revolution, Dream is by Ali Jackson and the writings of Dr. King are narrated by Leslie Odom, Jr.
Kyle Abraham’s UNTITLED AMERICA is proof that sometimes by doing less, the results are even more powerful. The work investigates how organized incarceration of Black men and women affects the lives and futures of the incarcerated and tears apart families. The choreography is often most powerful when the movement is bare and devoid of decoration. The lighting and set design by Dan Scully is stark; the stage is filled with colors befitting a prison, using black, white and gray hues. A horizontal metallic structure, spanning the full width of the stage, evokes a “correctional” facility. We see bodies drop to the ground with arms forced behind them in submission. A single gunshot rings out and a man drops. This action is repeated with such clear thought to making a powerful statement without the use of violence. With great passion, Abraham depicts what is tragically happening throughout America. Created in 2006, the work feels like he choreographed it in reaction to more recent events.
Jamar Roberts is brilliant in his solo, as are Jacqueline Green and Chalvar Monteiro in a duet about two people torn apart by injustice. Karen Young’s costumes follow Abraham’s lead. She chose colors within the same range as the lighting, and they are elegant in their simplicity. Abraham has chosen scores by Laura Mvula, Raime, Carsten Nicolai, Kris Bowers, and Traditional to help create his vision. UNTITLED AMERICA is a powerful work that will withstand the passage of time.
ELLA, choreographed by Artistic Director Robert Battle, is a fun, fast and frolicking duet to music sung by the amazing Ella Fitzgerald. Performed here by the incredibly talented Jacqueline Harris and Megan Jakel, ELLA passes by in a flash. It is filled with humor, technical brilliance and tour de force speed; the two women moving at the same machine gun, rapid fire dynamics of Fitzgerald’s singing. Four men: Yannick Lebrun, Sean Aaron Carmon, Solomon Dumas and Robert Battle, made a quick cameo crossing for added comedic effect. ELLA provided a nice breather after the two previous dramatic works.
I first saw Alvin Ailey’s signature work REVELATIONS in New York several years after its premiere in 1960. It was wonderful then and it remains so over fifty years later. Performed to traditional songs and gospels, REVELATIONS is an insightful, touching and sometimes humorous portrayal of southern Black culture. It is filled with beautiful performances such as those by Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts in Fix Me, Jesus; Glenn Allen Sims in I Wanna Be Ready; and the outstanding Jeroboam Bozeman, Yannick Lebrun and Sean Aaron Carmon in Sinner Man. The company women shine and make us laugh as women gathered together before Sunday church service, and the entire cast brought the audience to their feet at the end of Rocka My Soul In The Bosom Of Abraham.
The cast of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater certainly can dance and the choreography is strong. The company’s run continues through March 12 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center. Go! You will not be disappointed. Click here for information and tickets.