Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
June 14, 2015
David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center
The evening’s first piece, “Toccata,” is part of a longer work, Come and Get the Beauty of it Hot, created by Talley Beatty in the 1960s. The dance is described as “set in the streets of New York” and has a jazzy feel that reminded me of West Side Story although with a more classic look and feel. Set to music by Grammy Award-winning Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin, the piece incorporates ensembles, duets and trios with a “big” finish when the girls leap—almost sail—into the men’s arms with their own arms outstretched. The whole is fun but not very arresting, almost like a series of class exercises.
“After the Rain” has choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, who originally made it for recently-retired ballerina Wendy Whelan. Here it was danced by Linda Celeste Sims and David Allen Sims, she barelegged, he barechested, both impressive The piece is hauntingly lovely in its simplicity. It opens with the dancers side by side rocking quietly and moves into simple lifts performed with great fluidity—some parts brought me close to tears.
After the intermission came a major shift in tone to Exodus—having its world premiere this year. The piece was choreographed by hip-hop performer, choreographer and teacher Rennie Harris who is credited with helping introduce the broader range of hip-hop to audiences worldwide. Exodus begins in very dim light with the dancers bent over showing their suffering but also looking upwards as though reaching to the heavens for help. There is a gunshot. A tall man (Jamar Roberts) moves through the group tending to his followers. At first the dancing is sporadic, but bit by bit movement takes over until the company is enveloped by rhythm and the audience is practically dancing along with them. By the end the dancers are all in white as though they have achieved their spiritual needs and march with a rising step that lifts the heart.
The final piece, Revelations, is the most often seen Ailey work. It’s composed of three sections, each of which incorporates several different dances and pieces of music. From the glowing orange costumes of the opening number (“I Been ‘Buked”) to “Sinner Man” in the “Move, Members, Move” section, the work is an expression of the south with its need for deliverance through spirituality. Move begins as a church congregation gathers to worship, preceded by gossip sessions, the discomfort of hot weather and the hope of salvation. The women wear vibrant yellow dresses; the men strut in coordinating vests and the whole has a southern church feeling. The gospel music throughout Revelations is integral to the dancing; some sections draw the clapping audience in especially during “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” since it’s a song many know.
Credited as Ailey’s masterwork, Revelations has been an important part of the company’s repertory since it was created in 1960. It remains vibrant and relevant as it shows the sorrows of slavery, the importance of emancipation and finally, a joyful sense of freedom.
The company is disciplined and athletic, brimming over with human energy.