Some more highlights of Alvin Ailey season, which goes until January 2nd:
First, from now through December 19th the company is joined onstage by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Live music always makes the evening so much richer. I was there last night, when they played music by Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie from Ailey’s Three Black Kings and Billy Wilson’s The Winter in Lisbon. Try to go if you can to one of these live-music performances. See the City Center schedule here.
Also, on January 2nd, the company will close the season, and Judith Jamison’s tenure as artistic director, with special performances by surprise guest artists and special dances including David Parsons’s popular Caught (performed by an Ailey dancer). And, on New Year’s Eve, Sweet Honey in the Rock will perform live with the company.
Okay highlights (mainly in photos):
Ronald K. Brown’s Dancing Spirit. This is a beautiful dance that premiered last season and grew on me even more this year. It’s set to music by Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Radiohead, and War and combines American modern dance with movement from Cuba and Brazil. It depicts a community of people whose dancing suggests that they’re each doing their own thing, each embodying their own spirit through dance, but also coming together for ritual. The dance takes place at night, as the background depicts first a starry night, and ends with a fully-visible moon. I love its energy, and how it builds. It’s simply mesmerizing. (Above photos by Paul Kolnik, and Christopher Duggan, respectively.)
Jamar Roberts dancing Robert Battle’s brief but compelling solo, In/Side. Wow. Audience went wild with applause. I think the company should consider showing this on So You Think You Can Dance – it’s akin to many of the contemporary pieces danced on that show. (Samuel Lee Roberts is pictured above, though, not Jamar. Photo by Paul Kolnik.)
Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature. This is not a new production, but it grows on me every year. I love the structure – how there’s a jazzy section, followed by a balletic one, then returning to jazz. I love the little story in the middle with the main woman – the jazz diva – getting a little carried away with herself.
But for me personally, I love how much the movement resembles samba. So many of the steps are the same exact steps I learned in ballroom, but of course they’re danced much differently. Here they’re much slower, slinkier, jazzier, with the upper body much looser. It always makes me wonder about the origins of American jazz dance. Samba is a merging of African and Latin dance – it’s Brazilian. So jazz dance must have origins in African and Latin. Yet, it’s also balletic. I always thought there was something balletic about samba too and if that were emphasized it would be all the more beautiful. My ballroom teachers always rolled their eyes at me when I said that. But I feel like Mr. Ailey had the same idea, because this is that dance! You can see the samba-like movement in some of his other dances too, like at the beginning of the “Honor Processional” in Revelations. (Photo by Nan Melville.)
Memoria by Alvin Ailey. This is not a new production but for some reason I don’t remember seeing it before. It’s a tribute to one of his friends who died, a choreographer named Joyce Trisler. I love how the first part of it is like a memorial service – slow, somber, and spiritual. Then in the second half, the momentum builds into a rhythmic celebration of her life. The night I saw it, Briana Reed (who’s not pictured above) danced the lead very powerfully. (Photo by Andrew Eccles.)
Camille A. Brown’s three-part solo, The Evolution of a Secured Feminine. It’s a short, clever piece, by turns funny and sad, filled with lots of spastic-looking movement that doesn’t always seem to accompany the lyrics. But that is part of its humor and wit. I like the third section the best because it tells a little story. (Briana Reed is in Paul Kolnik’s photo above).
Uptown, by Matthew Rushing. This piece is just as much theater as dance and it takes you on a little tour of the Harlem Renaissance. You visit the Cotton Club and the Savoy, and Zora Neale Hurston, WEB DuBois, Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, and Florence Mills all make appearances. But it was Clifton Brown’s portrayal of the central character in a Langston Hughes poem that really touched me. He’s really good at those kinds of solos, Clifton. He’s really good at finding and expressing the deepest interior of a character, and really dramatizing it. I can’t find any photos of him in this, but above is a photo by Paul Kolnik of Amos J. Machanic as Victor, the hilariously wacky tour guide, along with the cast. This year, I saw that character danced by Abdur-Rahim Jackson, who had a lot of fun with it, really brought it to life.
Okay, I have to stop now, but more to come, especially on the new pieces!
All photos from the Alvin Ailey website.