More Revivals at Alvin Ailey – THE PRODIGAL PRINCE is Electrifying!

Last night was, sadly, my last Alvin Ailey performance of the season. They performed two revivals – Geoffrey Holder’s The Prodigal Prince from 1968 (which was astounding), and Judith Jamison’s Forgotten Time, from 1989. They also performed Christopher Huggins’ new Anointed, which I saw earlier in the season and wrote about here.  (Photo above, by Paul Kolnik, is of Samuel Lee Roberts in Prodigal Prince).

I liked Jamison’s Forgotten Time. As you can see in the photos below, she created some very beautiful images with the partnering. Photos below are by Paul Kolnik. In the first and last, the dancers are Jamar Roberts and Antonio Douthit; in the middle two, they are Linda Celeste Sims and Clifton Brown.

It was very spiritual and I loved the ending image, with the ensemble of dancers – about 13 in total – all looking up and waving their arms back and forth. At many points the dancers would look up toward the sky, into the light, as if searching for something, some spiritual being. At points the men would lift the women on their shoulders so they could gaze even higher. And there was as stunning solo between the two main men in the middle. Last night that solo was performed by Glenn Allen Sims and Jermaine Terry, who were very good. The audience gave them huge applause at the end.

The music was hauntingly beautiful. It was by Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, and sounded like Bulgarian spirituals. I also loved the costumes (by Jamison and Ellen Mahlke).

I really loved The Prodigal Prince, as did the whole audience. I didn’t know when we were going to get out of there after the performance was over, the dancers received so many curtain calls. By Geoffrey Holder (who’s won Tony awards for The Wiz and Timbuktu), from 1968, the company revived it this season. I think they should do it every season though. It’s a good dance to end the evening with, so they could alternate more often between it and Revelations.

The subject of The Prodigal Prince is Haitian painter Hector Hyppolite (see some of his images here). According to the program notes, Hyppolite was also a houngan – a high priest of Voudoun, the religion of the Haitians. In 1943 St. John the Baptist and the Voudoun Goddess Erzulie came to him in a vision which inspired him to take a sojourn to Africa (which he may have imagined) and paint the Voudoun loas – or African gods. His paintings became celebrated after leading surrealist Andre Breton discovered them and brought them to Europe.

Most of the choreography consists of Haitian and African dance; I’d never seen Haitian before and I found it spellbinding. It’s amazing all that the Ailey dancers can do, and do superbly. The music, also by Holder, was very drum-heavy, very rhythmic, very African – the type of music that makes you want to take up African dance. Samuel Lee Roberts’ depiction of Hyppolite, as he encountered Erzulie (danced by Akua Noni Parker) and Saint John the Baptist (in African form, danced by Jamar Roberts), then dreamed of Africa and was taken with the African spirit (danced by Michael Francis McBride), was excellent. Samuel Lee Roberts is so good at roles that require the dancer to act as well as dance. Earlier in the season, he danced the role of Lazarus in Mary Lou’s Mass and he was the highlight of that entire dance. He’s very entertaining and can bring out the humor in a story without reducing its depth.

The whole dance was so mesmerizing, the costumes brilliant, and the beat of that music so infectious. Definitely one of the highlights of the season. Here are more pictures, all by Paul Kolnik.

(Lee with Briana Reed as Erzulie.)

All photos from AlvinAiley.org.

The company still has about two weeks left of their City Center season. Go here for the schedule.

2 Comments

  1. Is there anything the Ailey dancers can’t do? They’re so precise and so athletic–in addition to being able to really interpret music and stories. Incredible.

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