“One of the promises of my company is that its repertoire will include pieces that ordinary people can understand. I still dream that my folks down on the farm in Texas can come to an Ailey concert and know and appreciate what’s happening onstage. That’s my perception of what dance should be — a popular form, wrenched from the hands of the elite.” From REVELATIONS, The Autobiography of Alvin Ailey, pg. 101.
That must be why I love this company so. Everything they do is sublime, humanistic, evocative, easily relatable, and immensely meaningful; it speaks to your soul, and it speaks to everyone. It’s the antithesis of elitist. I was so upset their New York season is over (well, not competely; they still have a big shindig tomorrow night in celebration of New Year’s Eve), that I spent all weekend reading Ailey’s Autobiography, which I picked up at a rare bookstore I’m fond of in Durham, while visiting Mom. I highly recommend it.
Anyway, highlights for me of the past several weeks were:
1) “Revelations” (top picture, by Paul Kolnick, from AAADT website). But, I mean, duh, that it’s a season highlight. You’d be inhuman if you didn’t respond to this one 😀 I wrote about it previously, here.
Oh, another thing I discovered whilst confined to my apartment by my recent (ridiculously debilitating) sinus infection + migraine episode / end-of-AA-season depression: the Alvin Ailey organization has a bunch of videos posted on YouTube!!! The quality’s not tremendously high (hopefully they’ll improve on that soon :)), but for those unfortunate souls who have never experienced this brilliant company, I can link to just about everything so you can get a taste!
2) This season I fell in love with “Love Stories,” a dance in three parts and three styles, all of them set to Stevie Wonder music. I love how the three parts are so fundamentally different from each other while somehow still managing to sequeway well into one another: the first one is beautiful modern / balletic (above top pic, danced by Clifton Brown), composed of a solo followed by a group of duets that include some very acrobatic partnering; the second part is raucous mad fun hip hop that makes you want to get up and dance yourself; and the third is what I’d call African / modern blend. That third part has honestly never done much for me until this season when it somehow become my favorite. For one thing, in one of my viewings this season, Kirven Boyd, a favorite whom I blogged about before, danced the beginning of that section, and watching him made me all the more intrigued. Weird how that happens: you have a favorite dancer and you end up liking anything they’re in — they make something totally beguiling when you’d never really even noticed it before.
So, the crazy fast hip hop number of the previous section ends, a voice calls out, “I want to hold a mirror up to society so that everyone can see how beautiful they are.” And, at that point a man emerges from the right wing wearing this earthy-toned, roomy outfit resembling to me a kind of religious, Hare Krishna-ish garb. He’s bent over and he takes a few slow hesitant steps forward, then several runs back. He gains the courage to inch forward again, then more steps back. The movement is African. Eventually, an ensemble of dancers emerges and they all dance together, making various formations, resembling possibly a kind of chain gang, or perhaps a multitude overtaken by a kind of religious spirit. At one humorous point, they bounce around in a circle, stick their arms out awkwardly at their sides, and look up to the ceiling making huge ‘Stevie Wonder’ smiles. When I saw the piece at one point with Apollinaire, she said she thought the first man out looked like a prisoner. I guess he could have been, although, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Maybe he’s a man who’s imprisoned by blindness or some other kind of handicap … racial prejudice even… At the end, the group happily bounces together going toward the back of the stage, when the back curtain lifts to reveal a multitude of bright lights. It’s really a sight. I’m really not sure what to make of it, but I’m intrigued. Robert Battle choreographed this section, and I was so taken with a small enchanting piece of his the company premiered, “Unfold,” which I wrote about here. This season was my first experience with this choreographer and I’m very interested to see more.
3) Several of the male dancers, including Clifton Brown (really the star of the company, to the extent this company has such things), Kirven, and Antonio Douthit (pictured above as the Firebird in a photo by Eduardo Patino). Like ABT, this is a company strong in men. Antonio is a tall, slim man with long, sinewy ballet muscles and he makes these gorgeous leg extensions. At one point in “Flowers,” Ailey’s fun but ultimately heart-rending ballet in tribute to Janis Joplin, there are several men dressed as her ‘boy toys’ in these hilarious shiny booty shorts (just what went on in the 70s?!) carrying her all over the stage in worship. At one point, they’re all simultaneously doing these rotating arabesques (turning on one foot with one leg lifted up to the back), and I suddenly noticed Antonio’s foot was practically to the ceiling! It was stunning! He makes beautiful shapes, and he’s very expressive with both his face and body. If anything, he probably needs to work a little more on his jumps, as well as on that intangible something that makes one a real artist. I say this only because he took over the role Clifton had in “The Road of the Phoebe Snow” — that of the young, innocent dreamy boy who falls in love with the girl who is killed, and he just didn’t make me want to cry for him the way Clifton did. Plus, I remember these crazy scissor split leaps that just completely blew me away when Clifton did them. They were impressive when Antonio did as well, but not quite as much — which isn’t bad and it’s probably completely unfair to compare anyone to Clifton The Miraculous (by the way, I wrote more about Clifton here). Basically, I think Antonio is a Clifton in the making but he’s not there yet; he just needs to work on it a bit more — he’s young, so he has time! Here’s an excerpt from “Flowers.”
I also liked Glenn Allen Sims, a favorite of mine from other seasons as well. He was just beautiful in this small little five minute jazz ballet of Ailey’s that the company just revived, “Reflections in D.” And the night I saw him dance that piece, he followed it by dancing the similarly sweet balletic solo in the opening of “Love Stories.” I was in love 🙂 In contrast, he also perfectly performed the bad-ass scary band manager / boyfriend in “Flowers,” tormenting poor Janis and signaling her downfall, as well as the hardened lover in “Phoebe Snow.”
Of the women, I LOVED Linda Celeste Sims (above in “Flowers”). She absolutely shined in everything she did. She brought me completely into her world: I wanted to cry for her raped, beaten innocent girl in “Phoebe Snow,” I felt angry at the men who mistreated her in Ulysses Dove’s darkly sexual “Episodes” (pictured below), and her beautiful ethereal creature with that impossible-looking back arch in Battle’s “Unfold” took my breath away. She is like my Veronika Part!
I also liked Briana Reed, for giving everything she did such sass and conviction and major attitude!
Alicia Graf is another one with a very beautiful balletic body.
(Here with Jamar Roberts, in Andrew Eccles photo)
I know a lot of people love her for that reason — with her balletic form and training, they think she brings something new and special to Ailey. I agree, but only somewhat. I didn’t love her in everything I saw her in, and while I certainly don’t think she’s superior to anyone else because of that background, I do think she really excels in the more balletic parts. I thought she was beautiful in the “Fix Me Jesus” section of “Revelations” (pictured here, but with Linda dancing the female part). She has gorgeous pointed toes, reminiscient to me of (again) Veronika Part. I also loved her in the balletic parts of “The River,” which was originally a ballet on pointe created for ABT. I’m not sure why the company doesn’t put that on pointe; it’s not like Alicia (or the other women — “Flowers” is partly on pointe) couldn’t do it. It seems like it would be so much more magical… Anyway, it was other roles where I felt like she didn’t bring as much as some of the other dancers. For example, she danced the jilted lover in “Phoebe Snow” very differently from Briana; Alicia’s character seemed more fragile, more innocent and more hurt by her jerky boyfriend, making her, in my opinion, too similar to the other female character in that ballet, the fragile innocent who ends up killing herself. And, I was underwhelmed by her jazz divas in “Night Creature” and “Pas De Duke” (the latter created by Ailey for the legendary Judith Jamison)
But really, one thing I love about this company, and why it’s rather ‘star-less’ I think, is that I think every one of the dancers brings something unique. I only talked about some, but I really like them all. I’m only leaving out the others because I’m dead tired and I need to go to sleep! I’m one of those unfortunate souls who has to work tomorrow….
Oh but quickly, I also really liked Camille A. Brown’s Groove to Nobody’s Business. I thought it was cute and completely relatable and fun and I hope that she does more for the company in the future, but really takes it up a notch in terms of depth. I saw a smaller piece by her earlier this year at the Fall For Dance Festival called “The Evolution of a Secured Feminine.” It was a smart, witty solo, by turns funny, by turns more reflective, which she performed herself. I hope in the future she will create more, fuller-length work like that for a larger group, on a larger scale.
Anyway, happy New Year’s everyone! And please look at some of Ailey’s YouTube videos, especially if you’ve never seen this company before. And please do go see them live if they come to your neck of the woods! They combine everything — modern ballet, African, jazz, hip hop, Latin — everything! They are the future I do believe. I can practically promise that you won’t be disappointed 🙂