4 stars out of 4
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s annual performance at the Auditorium Theatre is always spectacular. It’s a highlight of my yearly dance calendar, an annual shot of admiration and inspiration. Alvin Ailey is a national treasure, and they are as strong as ever in Chicago this week.
Many companies have excellent technical proficiency, but what sets Alvin Ailey apart is both the emotional quality of their work and stylistic dexterity of their programming. The company presents three different programs over six performances, presenting eleven total works of repertory. On opening night, the program began with Members Don’t Get Weary, a new work by company member Jamar Roberts. In a misty blue light in blue work clothes, dancers wearing oversized straw hats embody deep longing through outstretched arms and tense, contracted shapes. Roberts creates a physical language to match the musical language of the blues, mining John Coltrane with a sophisticated ear for accents and suspensions. Couples fight and love with fluid partnerwork. Gorgeous lighting design by Brandon Stirling Baker allows the dancers to seemingly appear and disappear from upstage, adding to the sensation that other people can be fickle friends in times of crisis.
In total tonal contrast, The Golden Section comes flying at you with pizzazz. Twyla Tharp’s lighthearted 1983 work is presentational where Members was introspective, with smiles, winks, and shimmies. Tharp playfully combines elaborate lifts and tricks with gyrations and head bops, her signature style embodied perfectly by the dancers’ flying feet. Costume design by Santo Loquasto is memorable: the dancers look like shiny golden circus artists shot straight from a cannon.
Perhaps the single most moving work of the night is In/Side, a piercing solo by Ailey Artistic Director Robert Battle. Chicago native Solomon Dumas is exquisitely vulnerable in the role, expressing personal torment with each fall to the floor and searching reach into the air. In eight minutes, I felt the same attachment to him and his struggle that one might develop over a two-hour movie or play. This choreography has immense power to tap into unnamable emotions.
And then of course, there is Revelations. Alvin Ailey’s signature suite of works explores spiritual struggle and celebration, the richness of history, and the vitality of community, all set to traditional African American spirituals. Revelations is one of the most widely seen works of the American contemporary dance cannon, and with continued relevance, it’s here to stay.
Alvin Ailey performs March 7-11 at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy). Call the box office at 312-341-2310 or visit www.auditoriumtheatre.org for more information.