Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returned to the stage at Northrop Auditorium on March 1st with a mixed bill featuring pieces commissioned from contemporary choreographers in the last year, alongside others created by Alvin Ailey decades ago.
The mix made for an evening that featured the jaw-dropping athleticism and deeply rooted spirituality AAADT is known for, while also offering varied perspectives from which to view the dances: historical and contemporary, social and personal.
First up was Ronald K. Brown’s Open Door, a dance inspired by the choreographer’s recent trip to Cuba. The lighting design for this piece was exceptional. Washes of pink and blue tinted—and sometimes saturated—the stage with light that looked as if it were coming from the sun.
As the piece progressed, the light onstage transitioned as well, suggesting the shift from dawn, to daylight, then dusk, and finally, night.Dressed in costumes that echoed the lights’ colors, the dancers hovered in balances, sailed through turns, floated as they leapt in and out of groups and partners.Hips circled and backs arched the sounds of Luis Demetrio, Arturio O”Farrill, and Tito Puente. The way the dancers related to one another on stage and the way the movement sequences were designed gave me the impression that Open Door followed a narrative. I was inclined to think that the piece was somewhat autobiographical. This element strengthened the piece, giving more meaning to what otherwise would have been a rather thin narrative.
After a pause in the program, Rachael McClaren brought a queen-like presence to the stage as she walked, knelt, leapt, reached, and kicked her way through all three sections of Ailey’s Cry. I was glad to see this piece in its entirety; often, only the last section is performed. I found the final solo more triumphant, and therefore more impactful, after watching the sections that come before it.
Rennie Harris’ Exodus started and ended with a shocking image of violence that I couldn’t help relate to the racially-motivated brutality still taking place in this and other countries.Hip-hop and breakdancing movements flowed unrelentingly from the dancers, who began the piece dressed in pedestrian clothing and finished dressed in white shirts, shoes, and pants. Harris’ movement combined with the music—a cut-up of sampled beats and what seemed to be Nina Simone’s voice—to create a trance-like effect, broken every once in a while by unexpected movement phrases, off-balance formations, or dramatic theatrical moments.
Revelations finished the evening. This performance of Revelations was nearly identical to past performances I have seen. But, though the form, content, and even style of this work of art hadn’t changed, the way I related to it had.
I’ve been wondering for some time about whether works of art “expire.” And this performance provided a bit of insight on that matter. The central benefit of dance repertory lies beyond historical preservation. When a work of art remains unchanged, we are able to more clearly see progress, regress, and stagnancy in ourselves and our contemporary context. And so, whether we are onstage or in the audience, we have a chance at developing a more personal relationship with performance.