Entertainment » Theatre

Alvin Ailey

by Rachel  Breitman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 9, 2018
A scene from "Revelations."
A scene from "Revelations."  

Warming the dank February chill at the Kennedy Center, is the quick moves and muscled bodies of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers, appearing for the sixth year in a row.

The sold-out run included many classical performances, honoring African American history and heritage, through dances about life in America's cities, the South, and famous Jazz musicians. The show opened with its annual gala to raise money for Washington, D.C.-based performing arts, and arts education programs.

The 60-year-old company, rooted in New York City, has become a historical repository for the American experience, using dance as a means to record and reenact history and find enduring truths that connect people from across different ethnic groups.

Many elements of the performance were narrative in nature, including "Stackup" by Tally Beatty, which evokes the intense life of Manhattan in the 1980s, including the all-night discos, drugs, and the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

Dressed in neon and parachute pants, dancers evoke the free spirit of the dancehall culture, with fast feet liquid-movements, and quick shimmies. The party, set to music by Grover Washington, Fearless Four and Earth, Wind, and Fire seems to go all night long, but the strobe light of the disco ball continues to show the underbelly of the glamour, as one dancer evokes the mental and physical disruptions caused by drug addiction.

Mixing gymnastics, ballet, and jazz, the classically trained performers interacted with one another through movement but also brought alive the emotions of the scenes through gesture and facial expression. Romantic duets and partnering allowed the performers to show a great connection to one another, using their bodies for call and response to create a dialogue through dance.

Robert Battle's "Ella" is a spirited and light tribute to the Jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, whose sassy and sweet scat makes the background for a playful and uptempo duet by two women, who shake, dip, and tap across the stage in tempo with her words and sounds. This performance celebrates the centennial of Fitzgerald's birth.

The evening was bookended by the classic "Revelations," a mixture of Gospel songs that is a signature piece, which premiered in 1960. Garbed in fluid cotton whites and bright yellow hoop skirts, the dancers evoked the sorrows and the grandeur of the Old South, the brutality of slavery and the perseverance of the human soul for redemption, salvation, and triumph.

Dancers' movements shifted from mournsome and full of longing during spirituals like "Wade in the Water," to celebratory and jubilant, showing the importance of dance and music as a means of surviving the cruelties of history and of course the modern world. This dance ended each night's performance for the full run of the show at the Kennedy Center.

Other works to be performed on various nights include Twyla Tharp's "The Golden Section" and "Shelter" by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, along with Robert Battle's "The Hunt," "In/Side," and "Mass."

"Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater" runs through February 11, 2018, at The John F. Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F Street, NW. For tickets and information call (202) 467-4600 or go to Kennedy-center.org


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