The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC from February 1st thru February 6th. Each performance included a different set of routines with “Revelations” as the finale. I attended the February 6th Show and had an amazing second experience with the company.
Three Black Kings: Choreographed in 1976 by Alvin Ailey. The show begins with King Balthazar wearing a long white flowing skirt and an egyptian necklace surrounded by five men wearing the same skirt. They glide and dance on the stage to an afro-beat jazz fusion composed by Duke Ellington. Balthazar is crowned king, and then King Solomon appears. Entering with five women dressed in pink, they glide on stage while King Balthazar and his five men walk off proudly. As the music becomes more jazzy and upbeat, Solomon and the women dance together and invoke a sense of romance and happiness. Solomon and one woman continue their beautiful duet as the other four women exit the stage.
As they finish, Martin Luther King walks on stage. Wearing a white button down shirt and black pants, he starts moving to the music, which now has changed to soulful jazz. He is then accompanied by fifteen other men and women and they dance in sync separately throughout the piece. The people lift King up in support and King continues to lift them with his moves. High kicks, precise arabesques, signature soul, and unimaginable control were the key characters of this piece.
In/Side: Choreographed in 2008 by Robert Battle. As a dim, dark, purple light sets the stage, the dancer stands with his back to the audience. A tall, muscular man, wearing only black briefs, begins a haunting modern routine to “Wild is the Wind” by Nina Simone. Expressing emotions of torment, fear, and intrigue, the dancer moves robotically and fluidly. This was a very deep piece. It was so impressive how the dancer seemed to maintain a presence covering the entire stage, even though he was the only person there.
Forgotten Time: Choreographed in 1989 by Judith Jamison. Twelve dancers kneel on the floor wearing nude colored body suits decorated with a few colorful lines. Gold dots of light cast shadows on them. In silence they rise and walk towards the left at different intervals. The music sounds like an a capella choir singing in a shrieking tone. As the piece progresses with seven sections, the dancers tell a story of ancient rituals of love and tribal rites of passage.
The dancers’ acrobatic talents are challenging and gracefully performed. With complex lifts and an amazing sense of balance, I found myself losing a sense of time as they remained suspended in the air.
Revelations: Choreographed in 1960 by Alvin Ailey. What more can be said about “Revelations?” The most memorable, moving, uplifting, and inspiring piece I have ever experienced. This year, the company is celebrating the 50th anniversary of this work of art. During the show, we saw a film documenting Mr. Ailey’s thoughts and inspirations for creating the piece and Judith Jamison’s experience with the piece.
If you have never experienced an Alvin Ailey performance, you essentially have not lived. The above clips are only the tip-of-the-iceberg when it comes to how amazing and inspiring they are. This was my second time seeing the company, and I must say the event was very different. The pieces were wonderful and a new experience on their own. However, the atmosphere of the audience left a noticeable impression. The first time I saw Alvin Ailey was in Atlanta, GA at the Fox Theatre. The company was celebrating 50 years as the cultural ambassador to the world. They performed an Otis Redding Tribute, collaborated with the a capella group, Sweet Honey & The Rye, and of course Revelations. In each section, the audience not only observed, but also participated. They sang along, cheered throughout the routine, and got up to dance. They even interacted with each other, regardless if they were strangers. On the flip side, the DC audience felt so restrained and passive. There was silence during the ballet and then polite applause when the curtain fell. Even during Revelations, no one seemed to accept the exciting offer of the “holy ghost.” I’m not saying this is good or bad, I am just noting my observations. I find the difference in culture between the north and the south of the U.S. very intriguing. Regardless of color or race or religion, the mere act of enjoying a show or an event is not expressed in a universal way. In my opinion, the south, in particular A-town, knows how to have a good time.
Thank you again Alvin Ailey for giving me the experience of a life time.