The beloved Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is back at The Kennedy Center for a week-long run. Now 57 years old, the company pulls from a repertoire dating back to 1960. Using a combination of ballet, jazz, and rumba technique, they offer a look into Americana and the African American experience through the lens of dance. Each show is made up of different pieces. Old repertoire is combined with more recent choreography, allowing the audience a view of Americana as it has transformed and developed across time.
The curtains rises on a cool and steamy stage as the full company dances to “Opening Theme” in The Winter In Lisbon. This piece was choreographed in 1992, near the end of his career, by Billy Wilson (restaged by Masazumi Chaya) to the music of Charles Fishman and Dizzy Gillespie. “San Sebastian” brings us back in time with baggy neon pants and patterned button downs designed by Barbara Forbes. Renaldo Maurice leads this piece with charm and a cocksure attitude as he is joined by his buddies for a night on the town. “Lisbon,” a sultry duet between Jacquelin Green and Jamar Roberts, finds the couple together once the party has died down and everyone has retired for the night. Green’s long elegant body and graceful movements are accentuated by the delicate flow of her purple dress, resulting in a stunning number. The set closes with “Manteca.” In this high-energy ensemble piece Wilson’s Broadway roots shine through. Adorned in a rainbow of neon outfits, the dancers create a vibrant stage picture.
When the curtain rises again the audience is jolted by the intensity of the music of John Mackey as the dancers leap and spin frantically in and out of pools of light at the beginning of Awakening. The title Awakening indicates a time of increased spirituality and uses powerful imagery of the Christ figure to indicate a commentary on the church. Frenetic energy contrasted by moments of stillness become a recurring theme as the choreography explores chaos, structure, and control. The choreography is eerie as maniacal carnival music plays and the company dances with possessed joy. They form a circle with arms outstretched in almost cult like precision. In uniform loose white costumes, they rise in unison. It appears as if they are floating. Dancers try to escape the group but are stopped and pulled back in. At some points soloist Jeroboam Bozeman takes on the role of one of the tormented, other times he stands firm as a Jesus figure. His movements are powerful and commanding and he creates a strong anchor point amongst the chaos. This piece, choreographed by current Artistic Director Robert Battle, is one of the newest in the Ailey repertoire. It’s use of imagery, lighting (beautifully done by Al Crawford), music, and choreography all work in aid of each other to create a greater experience. I found it fresh and thought provoking. Opinions were mixed though, long term patrons seated nearby complained that Awakening was edgier than what they are accustomed to.
The commentary on spirituality found in Awakening sharply contrasts with the Ailey staple Revelations, which came next in the program. Choreographed in 1960 by Alvin Ailey himself, Revelations examines hardship, strength, celebration, and spirituality through the music of African American spirituals. It is the only piece performed every night of the run, and a favorite of longtime patrons, who cheered as the curtains rose on the iconic opening image. Constance Stamatiou’s performance in the duet “Fix Me, Jesus” was a stand out. She displayed impressive control and balance while doing a promenade in full tilt, and her emotional connection made her compelling to watch. Collin Heyward as an infinitely supportive Jesus was an interesting contrast to the imagery assigned to Bozeman in Awakening. Stand in soloist Daniel Harder showed great strength in “I Wanna Be Ready,” doing justice to choreography that requires stamina and control.
In “Sinner Man” Solomon Dumas, Jermaine Terry, and Chalvar Monteiro bring appealing masculine energy to the stage, contrasted by the feminine beginning of “The Day is Past and Gone”, in which the female company members take the stage adorned in antebellum dresses and carrying fans redesigned by Barbara Forbes (original costuming by Ves Harper). The show closes out with the energetic ensemble number “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.” The company was received by thunderous applause that never seemed to fade.
Battle has put together a compelling program with too many highpoints to mention in entirety. The company is full of energetic dancers with strong technique and presence. Though their run at The Kennedy Center is coming to an end, you would do well to catch them elsewhere on their tour or back in DC next season.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater plays through February 12, 2017, at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. The repertory varies. All performances are sold out. To check on tickets call (202) 467-4600. For future The Kennedy Center events, go to their calendar.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with two intermissions.
Review #1: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at The Kennedy Center by Lisa Traiger.