Ailey Dancers Enter a Fresh Phase

Ailey dancers project a joyous exuberance of dance as a universal language.



Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Yannick will be in Berkeley.

Some years ago, I asked then-Cal Performances director Robert Cole why the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was invited to perform every year. “Because,” he said, “people want to see them.”

A simple answer, perhaps, but also an accurate one, because it goes right to the heart of why audiences around the globe never get tired of watching these excellent dancer/athletes who are at home in such a wide variety of choreographies. Ailey dancers, whatever the piece, project a joyous exuberance of dance as a universal language that communicates with power, grace, and generosity.

It helps that they have Revelations, about as fine a 20th-century piece that has been created. For many audiences Ailey without Revelations is unthinkable, but there is a lot more to these superb dancers.

Under the guidance of Judith Jamison who directed the company after Ailey’s death in 1989 until 2011, the company expanded its touring schedule, commissioned new work, created a successful school, and built a home—the envy of just about every dance company in the country. What it didn’t have is consistently fine choreography.

With Robert Battle, a choreographer with his own company and no previous association with Ailey, a fresh era has begun. Battle opened the doors to a broader spectrum of choreographers, without neglecting Ailey’s heritage. Joining this year’s three familiar, yet stylistically different, Ailey works—the haunting Cry, the jazzy Night Creature, and Revelations—is the Bay Area premiere of Battle’s own Ella as in Fitzgerald.

A number of 2016 commissions will present their own challenges, among them the Italian Mario Bigonzetti’s Deep, and from Sweden Johan Inger’s Walking Mad. Ailey dancer Hope Boykin is showcased with her third piece, the timely r-Evolution, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches. It is joined by Kyle Abraham’s Untitled America in which we hear nameless prisoners’ voices.

Add to this already rich line up hip-hop master Rennie Harris’ Exodus and Billy Wilson’s The Winter in Lisbon to Dizzy Gillespie, and it becomes quite clear why the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is such a welcome guest in Berkeley.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, three programs, March 14-17, 8 p.m.; March 18, 2 p.m and 8 p.m.; March 19, 3 p.m., Zellerbach Auditorium, Cal Performances, Berkeley, $18-$110, 510-642-9988, CalPerformances.org.

 

This report appears in the March edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

 

Published online on March 9, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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