Review: Alvin Ailey Considers What it Means to “Aspire To” in Latest Ailey II Performance

In its New York season, the company's studio-to-stage program centers growth, experimentation and mastering the classics.

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From "Blues Suite" to "Revelations," Alvin Ailey's roster of classic performances is long because it has never shied away from leveraging its foundational strengths to try something new. The company's latest performance from Ailey II builds on this practice to breathe life into classic works, and ground new material in what the company does best.

Ailey II is a studio-to-stage program that connects early-career dance talent with the passion and creative vision of today's outstanding and emerging choreographers. The company's New York season, running March 22- April 2 at the Ailey Citigroup Theatre, includes extended and reimagined repertory as well as new work that builds on Ailey's core ethos. Its opening performance, "Poetic Motion," features Robert Battle's "Alleluia," an excerpt from the late Alvin Ailey's "The Lark Ascending," the new work "mediAcation" from Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish, and an excerpt from William Forysthe's "Enemy in the Figure."

The selected works builds nicely, sucking audiences in with the athletic "Alleluia." Battle's fantastic jump sequences and his dedication to choreographing every single beat turns the number into a marathon of kinetic energy. The costumes, a white liturgical outfit, flow beautifully. However, a sudden shift from white to red on soloist Meagan King adds needed flair, and King owns that flair. Her artistry -- a tirelessness, a near-perfect form and a total embodiment of the choreography -- makes her a wonder. She's certainly one to watch.

Ailey dares to break ground in "mediAcation" from Roxas-Dobrish. The piece begins with a human-sized cat's cradle. Four dancers have, literally, bound two more dancers with yellow ropes. As the dancers bob and weave and wind and unwind, the ropes are either a prop or a metaphor; a gimmick or something profound. It's never clear which it may be, but what is clear is that the dance is stellar. Its propulsive energy lingers. This is the piece that will be remembered, if only for its intimacy. The dancers, either in a series of duets or in the ensemble, truly feel connected. If the story here is about being bound to another -- with ropes, perhaps -- then the dance does that work all on its own.

It's a testament to the dancers that throughout the entire 90 minute performance, only the energy in the space reveals what it's like to turn small feats into mere steps. In "The Lark Ascending" there's a moment when Rachel Yoo balances on Travon M. Williams' shoulders where the strain is felt, but never seen, even in such an intimate setting as the Citigroup Theater. Every dancer on the stage has superb technique, unmatched musicality and enviable stamina. It feels as if they've been rehearsing together for years and are truly comfortable together as they test their limits.

That connectedness, that dedication to good form is what Ailey does best. Ailey is an energy and a fearlessness. It never takes itself too seriously, but it is focused. It knows when to be sassy and when to be serene. It doesn't matter if it's performing a classic or a new work or if the dancer on stage has performed for two years or 20, Ailey never misses its mark.

Ailey II's New York season runs through April 2nd. Tickets start at $59


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An award-winning freelance journalist specializing in long-form, community-focused storytelling, Lora has written for the Washington City Paper, the PBS NewsHour, Marquette Magazine, Broadwa... (read more about this author)