Review: ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER at The John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts - Program A

The company returns for its annual run at the Kennedy Center through February 11

By: Feb. 08, 2024
Review: ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER at The John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts - Program A

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s annual run at The Kennedy Center is consistently a highlight of the winter season, and this year is no exception. (Full disclosure: I worked for the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, the parent organization, from 2007 to 2011 in an administrative role.) This year the company brings three programs to D.C., all including Mr. Ailey’s 1960 classic Revelations, representing the best of recent revivals and new works. 

Tuesday’s opening night performance featured two new productions of older repertory; an update of the 2000 commission by Alonzo King, Following the Subtle Current Upstream, and of 2009’s Dancing Spirit, choreographed by Ronald K. Brown. Both works took full advantage of the Ailey dancers’ musicality, proprioception, and technical facility across multiple dance genres. The revivals of these works provide the dancers with compelling vehicles for their individuality, a rarely-sought feature in group choreography. Both pieces eschew unison dancing for the most part, choosing instead to layer duets and trios with solos to harmonious effect.

In Following the Subtle Current Upstream a series of solos give way to a tender pas de deux that shows off the dancers’ ballet technique and extension. The couple twists around each other, at times with great effort, suggesting apprehension or distress in their relationship. This enigmatic sensation, however, is left unresolved. Perhaps the effort shown was not intended? 

Dancing Spirit, the stronger work, feels more certain of what it is trying to convey: the importance of ritual and tradition and the need to pay respect to the things and loved ones who have come before. Created in honor of the Ailey company’s former star dancer and Artistic Director, Judith Jamison, Brown draws on repetitive gestures and rhythmic motifs that suggest offering praise and looking back in order to move forward. The central female dancer, dressed in a costume evocative of Jamison’s white leotard and full skirt from her beloved solo Cry, even performs fan kicks and torso moves similar to those in Cry. Far from parroting, these movements deepen the connection to the past while reminding the audience that the dancers, the choreography and indeed all of us keep going and evolving. 

While the current company members are largely new to the works and were not part of the original productions, their commitment to showcasing the intricacies of the choreography - from King’s sinewy undulations to Brown’s dynamic rhythms - is impressive. 

The performance concluded with Revelations, which brought the house to its feet. Despite more than 100 performances each year of this work, the Ailey dancers continue to approach it freshly, revealing new subtleties in its steps and meaning. Caroline T. Dartey as the female partner in Fix Me, Jesus and Chalvar Monteiro in I Wanna Be Ready were both outstanding, seeming to react in each phrase as if it were the first time they were performing it. I look forward to seeing a different cast on Thursday as part of Program B.

Runtime: 2 hours including two intermissions

Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik