Looking for a respite from the political chaos that surrounds us? Care to leave your troubles behind? How about an escape to the world of energizing, uplifting dance? Catch America’s favorite dance troupe, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), at the Kennedy Center through the weekend. Just a few strains of Ailey’s gospel-singing, toe-tapping, hand-clapping Revelations will bring back that smile that’s been missing too long.
Maybe it’s the pop-concert ambiance of an Ailey performance, or the rich African-American heritage it calls upon, or just the gut-wrenching fervor and physicality of the dancing; but whatever the reason, Ailey’s fans are as loud as they are loyal. The rousing finale at last night’s opening program to celebrate the company’s 60th-anniversary tour reflects Ailey’s spiritual upbringing in the Texas Bible Belt where he grew up. It absolutely works magic no matter where the dance is performed or where the viewer was raised or whether there was a party waiting for the tony crowd. Folks just can’t get enough of the joy this work brings.
It was an early curtain last night with an after-show party scheduled upstairs at the Kennedy Center. Decked out in their finest attire, folks came late, of course, due to traffic delays around the White House, but a few were unaware of the 7 pm call. After a few thank-you speeches and the settling down of the audience, AAADT Artistic Director Robert Battle chatted up the crowd with a mention that the company took part in the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971, and joked about returning to DC “where one is able to testify.”
It was noted in the introduction that “a third of the dancers in the company come from our area…and money raised will go back into the community to teach the next generation dance.”
Battle acknowledged Masazumi Chaya, who recently retired after nearly five decades as Associate Artistic Director – personally I miss seeing him on stage as well as behind the scenes. Battle beamed when he described the company’s new repertory, including Ode, the second Ailey commission by Resident Choreographer Jamar Roberts, and Ounce of Faith, Darrell Grand Moultrie’s homage to teachers that kicked off the especially high-energy program.
With a bright purple backdrop and terrific lighting by Mark Stanley, a dozen dancers created a colorful kaleidoscope with leaps and falls and tricky catches in the air throughout the excerpt from Ounce of Faith. Moultrie is credited as a contributing choreographer to a Beyoncé show, which explains the slick, sensual and strutting movements in this jazzy ballet, set to music by various artists. I loved the costumes by Mark Eric.
Ode, exuberantly danced to a complex piano score by the late, great Don Pullen, left one breathless (and hopeful for a quiet moment to reflect Jamar Roberts’ “healing meditation,” as described in the program). The six male dancers – bare-chested and sweaty and young – came across frenetic at times, though their fine training and superb technique was evident. The recording of Pullen’s Suite (Sweet) Malcolm (Part 1 Memories and Gunshots) offered the dancers the chance to absorb the power of the music and drama of our gun-obsessed society. It was a pure example of music visualization. And the scenic design by Libby Stadstad dazzles.
A big sigh could be heard throughout the Opera House last night when the voice of Diana Krall singing Joni Mitchell’s music greeted us in A Case Of You, created by Judith Jamison in 2004 and re-staged by Hope Boykin (who is celebrating her 20th year with the Ailey Company) and Jamar Roberts. Dressed in a sexy red dress that clung to her every move, Jacqueline Green looked stunning in this poignant duet. Her partner Jamar Roberts was tender one moment, catching her as she jumped onto his thighs, and defiant when he took off, leaving only her red scarf behind. In her dances like Cry and others, Jamison has always presented women as strong and self-reliant. This was no exception.
Opening night concluded with Revelations, of course (as it does in each of the Kennedy Center performances through the weekend). Folks typically jump to their feet to cheer the dancers after performances of Run, Sinner Man and Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham, but last night shed a light on dancers who are often missed in the headlines.
Hope Boykin was front and center and wonderful to watch in I’ve Been Buked. Jacqueline Green lifted her umbrella to the heavens while Baltimore’s other talent, Jessica Amber Pinkett, sashayed across the stage in the Processional. Clifton Brown moved us in I Wanna Be Ready, and the six dance students from Washington schools were adorable, their movement in sync with the adults.
Running Time: Two hours, with two 15-minute intermissions.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs different programs from its touring repertory of 10 works, at the Kennedy Center through Sunday matinee, February 9, 2020, at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.
Note: Performance schedule subject to change. Running times may vary.