Ailey dancers know how to bring in an audience. Whether it is for their flawless technique, their focused emotional deliverance, their exquisite physiques, or their dedication to continuing Ailey’s legacy, after 50 years Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is still a force to be reckoned with.
The opening piece, Hymn, created in 1993, reflects the documentary video presented at the beginning of the evening. The video tells the story of the Ailey Company that spans 50 years, including its inception when Alvin Ailey decided to create a dance company about the African-American experience. The focus of the video and of Ailey’s philosophy is that dance is for the people, and therefore, it should be delivered back to the people. Ailey’s company fosters new choreographers. Because of this, the company was able to survive beyond his own life. When Judith Jamison became the new artistic director of the company, she expanded his legacy as well as brought her own personality.
After 50 years since Alvin Ailey began his company, the conversation about how modern dance companies can survive after their founding director dies is still very relevant. Just a week ago, Merce Cunningham announced that his company will dismantle shortly after his death. This news is not overly surprising since Cunningham is the only choreographer for the company. For Alvin Ailey, his legacy was able to continue because he entrusted the company over to Judith Jamison as well as fostered new choreographers amongst the dancers in his company.
My favorite sections of Hymn are Black Dress performed by Linda Celeste Sims and The Mask by Yusha-Marie Sorzano. Sims is the embodiment of sexiness and grace. The lines she makes with her arms and legs extend to infinity, and yet, she still appears grounded and personable. Every Ailey dancer is extremely unique, but they all possess a couple of traits common to many Ailey dancers, a fierceness and a grounded personality, which is apparent in how well they all work together on stage.
Hymn is my favorite piece of the evening because of its urban and eclectic, yet personable feel. The infusion of different art forms into dance also appeals to my tastes. For example, Judith Jameson collaborates with Anna Deavere Smith, a playwright and actress, and with this partnership, a beautifully choreographed and clear dialogue between the dancers and Alvin's legacy is portrayed. This collaboration brings life and ferocity to every movement. Linda Celeste Sims, Renee Robinson, and Yusha-Marie Sorzano dominate as queen divas of the night. This is not to say that they appear stand-offish or stuck-up, but their dancing appears majestic and super-human. Each dancer in their own way is able to get a little closer to every dancer’s dream, which is to appear different than the average joe-schmo just walking down the street, but also be able to appeal to a wide audience of dancers and non-dancers alike.
Hymn is followed by Suite Otis, which was created in 1971 by George Faison, also choreographer of the famed The Wiz. Suite Otis is a tribute to Otis Redding. The entire soundtrack for this piece, including “Satisfaction” and “Try a Little Tenderness,” are all created and performed by Mr. Redding. George Faison’s choreography is at times cutesy and at other times sensual. Although the piece was created over 30 years ago, the dancers are able to bring youthful and fresh qualities to the movements.
The performance constantly brings me back to the notion that Alvin Ailey’s aim was to celebrate every dancer’s unique qualities; he did not want cookie-cutter dancers. The company is the embodiment of uniqueness. It is easy to differentiate each dancer not only because of their physical differences, but also because of their personality differences.
The evening ended with the company performing their signature piece, Revelations. With music set to Gospel songs, the entire company shows its true prowess as an extremely eclectic and dynamic group of people who are able to transcend time by excelling both in contemporary music genres as well as gospel music genres. The members of the company stay true to themselves throughout the show. They are able to carry out Alvin Ailey’s 50 year legacy while remaining modern and relevant to the challenges and issues of today’s world.
Alvin Ailey Repertory Photography © Steve Vaccariello.
iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Amanda Keller
Performance: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Program A, Best of Ailey
Choreography: Alvin Ailey, George Faison, Judith Jamison
Venue: Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)
Performance Date: Wednesday - June 10, 2009