In Art on
May 22, 2017

All About Alvin Ailey

Dance is a metaphor for how we get through life. It’s about timing, it’s about daring, it’s about grace, it’s about intensity, it’s about overcoming difficult steps—but then, finally, it’s about finding joy.” ~ Robert Battle, Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Mauro Bigonzetti’s Deep. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Ibeyi music pulsed through Zellerbach Hall, the energy was electric, and the bodies moving across the stage shared their gifts with the audience freely. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had come to California, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude sitting in the balcony and experiencing the soul cleansing ceremony the choreographer, Mauro Bigonzetti, titled Deep.  During intermission, I downloaded the music.  I needed something to take me back to that dance after the dancers left the stage.

“Carry away my dead leaves
Let me baptize my soul with the help of your waters
Sink my pains and complains
Let the river take them, river drown them
My ego and my blame
Let me baptize my soul with the help of your waters
Those all means are so ashamed
Let the river take them, river drown them”

~River, Ibeyi

After intermission a completely different kind of dance was performed—one that explored the depth of human relationships, social norms, and even mental illness, but was much more lighthearted and laced with humor. This was Walking Mad.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Johan Inger’s Walking Mad. Photo by Paul Kolnik

The music was different too. The familiar bull fight Bolero by Ravel helped us see that these issues and social scenarios are truly timeless even if the dance is contemporary. As the choreographer himself put it:

“The famous ’Boléro’from Ravel, with its sexual, almost kitschy history, was the trigger point to make my own version. I quickly decided that it was going to be about relationships in different forms and circumstances. I came up with the idea of a wall that could transform the space during this minimalistic music and create small pockets of space and situations. Walking Mad is a journey in which we encounter our fears, our longings and the lightness of being.” ~Johan Inger

I loved the use of the wall that bisected the stage; the doors symbolizing, perhaps, opportunities and the entirety of the wall signifying the mental stumbling blocks we create for ourselves and the impediments that life presents us with that can make relationships challenging.

After “Walking Mad” the audience was treated to Ella. Ella Fitzgerald is a jazz-age icon. This work, choreographed by artistic director Robert Battle pays a beautiful tribute to the Queen of Jazz.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Robert Battle’s Ella. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Using a live concert recording of Fitzgerald performing the song “Airmail Special,” Ella matches the iconic singer’s virtuosic scatting with lightning-fast, articulated movement in an irresistible tour-de-force that left me (and the dancers) breathless.

Finally, the moment every Alvin Ailey devotee waits for came, Revelations. This is the dance that really brought Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater its acclaim.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Revelations, choreographed by Alvin Ailey, debuted in New York City on January 31, 1960–nearly 60 years ago. The dance tells the story of African-American strength breaking free from from slavery and embracing freedom through a suite of dances set to spirituals like “Wade in the Water” and blues music.  

If you have a chance to see Alvin Ailey perform, I cannot recommend it enough, it is a wonderful experience that will stay with you long after the curtain falls.


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