Review: ALVIN AILEY - PROGRAM B at Opera House at The Kennedy Center

Two newer works plus Revelations as part of the DC annual season ending Sunday

By: Feb. 11, 2024
Review: ALVIN AILEY - PROGRAM B at Opera House at The Kennedy Center

Thursday’s Ailey performance of Program B featured Century, a new work by Amy Hall Garner, her first for the company, 2019’s Ode by former company member Jamar Roberts, and Mr. Ailey’s juggernaut Revelations. 

Garner’s Century is pure celebration, with its gold backdrop, pink ruffled costumes and fast-moving jazzy footwork. Set to a jazz score with works by Count Basie, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and more, this raucous piece showcased the Ailey dancers’ technical virtuosity. Moreso, it looked like loads of fun as they punctuated the score with percussive jabs with their limbs. 

Roberts’ Ode, an ensemble work about the impact of gun violence, is set to a hypnotic and, at times, jarring score by jazz pianist Don Pullen. The middle section’s manic rhythms and feverish intensity propel the dancers up, down and across the stage in endless loops. The highly gestural choreography is pedestrian in places, evoking regular people, not the glamorous athletes we saw in the first piece. This humanity is essential to building an empathetic connection to the themes onstage; we feel their despair and sadness and can imagine it as our own. 

Gun violence is not portrayed directly or didactically, and other than a few movements the vocabulary is abstract and centered on the effects rather than the act - what happens after the violence. The final images are seared in my head; the dancers reaching for a victim on the ground, holding each other up with their bodies. The flurry of movement is over, but there is action in their stillness.

The final piece, like in Program A, was Revelations. Once again the company performed this work with remarkable tenderness and attention. Standout Xavier Mack, who seemed to almost sparkle in Century, also found moments to steal in Revelations, beaming with joy in the final yellow section. Mind you, the finale is an ensemble section with only two tiny female solos, but Mack’s captivating demeanor showed that anything can become a solo for a moment if you imbue it with meaning. 

The company’s commitment to nurturing new talent continues to be a hallmark. Reading the program, its dancers seem to come from a wider range of backgrounds than just the typical Juilliard, Fordham and Ailey II ranks, suggesting we may see even more breadth in future seasons. This program also demonstrated a commitment to new choreographic talent, which is yielding dividends for the dancers and its audiences. 

Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes with two intermissions

Photo Credit: Tony Powell