BWW Review: Celebrating Ailey's Legacy with Vibrant Productions by ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER
December 13, 2016 continued the favorite return of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for their joyous annual five-week holiday engagement at the New York City Center. Under the artistic direction of Robert Battle, the company continues to reach audiences of all ages, while using dance as a platform to unify and educate. This evening's program did just that!
The performance opened with Blues Suite, Ailey's first masterpiece that was originally choreographed in 1958. Sometimes I feel this piece does not get as much play as some of his later works, but this is where it all started. It is here that he found his choreographic voice and the rest was history. Drawing on the "blood memories" of his youth growing up in rural, depression-era Texas, with the sounds of a train and bells, Ailey takes you back to an old barrelhouse and the reflections of the people he knew from his childhood. The level of athleticism is just amazing. The dancers perform with such emotion that you can see and feel the weight of the heavy load they carry. It is always a treat to see husband and wife Glenn Allen and Linda Celeste Sims dance together. They have a chemistry about them that is amazing. And to think, this was where it all started. This was where a legacy that would forever change the perception of American dance came from. What made this particular showing was that it was performed to live music by Kenny Brawner and the Brawner Brothers. What a talented group of musicians!
Next was the anticipated new production of Ailey's Masekela Language that illustrates the oppression parallels of apartheid in South Africa and race-induced violence in Chicago during the 1960s. This was a very powerful piece. Taking place in a shebeen (a South African beer house) and performed to music composed by trumpeter Hugh Masekela brings different emotions of anger, tension, fear, and anxiety- all feelings that were too familiar then as they are now. It was absolutely mesmerizing, especially with the stunning performances by Jamar Roberts and Linda Celeste Sims. It is great to use dance as a platform to bring forth different important issues to the spotlight and this piece did just that.
The evening concluded with the crowd favorite Revelations. Since its creation in 1960, this piece has become a signature for American modern dance. Ailey pays homage to the African-American culture rooted in the spiritual life and sounds of the Baptist church. There is something about this dance that is magical. As soon as the music starts, people quickly end their conversations and get ready for the journey that is about to begin. The dancers were absolutely stunning. I have seen this piece many times before, but something about this time around made it even more moving. Hearing the lines in the first section, Pilgrim of Sorrow, "There is trouble all over the world" spoke volumes to me. Although there is uncertainty with the political climate, it is not just here in the US. Thinking back to recent events such as the earthquake in Haiti, the Brexit in the UK, the conflicts in Syria, and the list can go on unfortunately. These are the times when we need dance companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, now more than ever. They remind us of the joy, pain, and most importantly hope that exists in this world.
This company is so vital not only to the dance field, but also to the world at large. Dance has served as a means of unity among different people and nations. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has been a vital American cultural ambassador to the world for the past several decades from being chosen to go on an extensive tour to Southeast Asia and Australia in 1962, to a State Department-sponsored tour of North Africa and Europe, and also a tour to the USSR in 1970, to a US government-sponsored tour of the People's Republic of China in 1985, to a historic residency in South Africa in 1997, and tours to Paris, Denmark, Israel, Spain, and Switzerland in 2012, just to name a few. The company has participated with such grace and served as a means of peace between the US and the above mentioned cities and nations. No other company can do what Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has done and continues to do.