Reviewed by Tom E. Lawler
T4W readers can save $10 on tickets to #AileyinChicago by using code SOCIAL
In his engaging pre-show remarks, Alvin Ailey’s young artistic director Robert Battle spoke of the “transformative energy” of this legendary dance company that inspired him to move to New York and be a dancer after seeing one of their performances as a young man. As only the third artistic director in the history of this 55-year-old dance company, Battle has the challenge of both honoring Ailey’s venerable mission and repertory while bringing it current to inspire a new generation of dancers and supporters.
Judging by the explosion of technique, artistry and passion on display in just the first work of the program, Another Night, this dance company has never been more enthralling or vital. Set to a classic bebop composition (Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia”), Ailey’s company of African-American dancers were the definition of jazz itself. The dance starts with colored footlights and just one dancer and then gradually expands to a propulsive group of Technicolor-clad male and female dancers exhibiting both superb control and ferocious energy and literally embodying Ailey’s mission of blending the best of ballet, modern, jazz and African dance. The long, chiseled limbs of these dancers perform impossibly graceful swoops, loops and twists that remind you of ice skaters doing figure eights. Barring the possibility that some of these dancers are actually on wheels, you’re left only with one painfully obvious revelation: You can’t do what they can do.
Revelations is also the showcase work of this New York-based dance company now on a 22-city tour which docks in Chicago for an unprecedented two weeks at Louis Sullivan’s landmark Auditorium Theatre. Inspired by its founder’s harsh, Depression-era childhood in Texas dominated by segregation, the Southern Baptist Church, gospel music, spirituals and the Blues, Revelations is a heady broth of cultural influences, storytelling and personal passions. Ailey created this three-part work in 1960 – just two years after founding his company – and it’s since become one of the most seen modern dance works for audiences around the world.
Revelations is worth a visit to see this electrifying dance company alone, although this critic can make a similar case for Another Night, Battle’s own Strange Humors and the witty Petite Mort, a company premiere of a work by Holland’s Nederlands Dans Theater. The latter piece features a cold opening of male dancers in golden shorts slashing cutlasses through the air (the hearty chorus of female cheers from the sold-out Auditorium Theatre was not unexpected – especially by this supremely confident group of Adonises). A chance to see a company as immensely talented as the Ailey touring with such a bold, challenging program should not be missed.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway
Artistic Director: Robert Battles
The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater performs two separate programs through their two-week engagement ending on Sunday, March 17. Performance times vary.
Buy tickets at ticketmaster.com/auditorium or call 800.982.2787.