4 stars out of 4
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s annual performance at the Auditorium Theatre is always spectacular, but this year is especially noteworthy, a celebration of their 60th year as a company and their 50th year at the Auditorium. Such long-term dance relationships are rare, and it speaks to how much Chicago loves Ailey.
No matter which of the three programs you catch this weekend, prepare your soul to be stirred.
On opening night, the program featured hip hop icon Rennie Harris’ 2018 work Lazarus. The first act explored the environment Ailey himself grew up in, the Jim Crow south, with the African American experiences of grief, death, and pain at the center of the work. There were many searing images of lifeless bodies propped up or dragged away by others, many instances of contrast between hunched defeat and defiant rebellion. No image was more shocking than that of a group lynching, the dancers swaying on their tiptoes in perfect mimicry of the real thing. My seat-mate gasped, and someone in the audience screamed. The expansive musical score shape-shifted to match the shifting tones of the imagery, with Michael Kiwanuka’s “Black man in a white world,” packing particular punch.
The second act opened as the first ended, with a sea of dancers’ hands snaking in the air, as Lazarus (our protagonist, though really an everyman) walks through them. The spoken text suggests the hands may be ghosts of ancestors in a graveyard, though the beauty of the image resists just one interpretation. The second act offers a tension between exhuberance and retreat—the pulsing house beat is infectious, with flying footwork and fabulous rhythms, but as soon as it builds, it steps back again, with slow motion and remixed samples of Nina Simone. If Lazarus is the resurrected Black spirit, free to dance, then he is still weighted down by history—two steps forward, one step back.
Like so many Chicagoans, I love seeing Revelations every year, and this year was especially poignant after Lazarus. 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 spirituals. Clifton Brown facing his mortality in I wanna Be Ready and Sarah Daley-Perdomo and Glenn Allen Simms in Fix Me, Jesus inspire the kind of soul searching that stays with you long, long after curtain call.
Alvin Ailey performs March 6-10 at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy). Call the box office at 312-341-2310 or visit www.auditoriumtheatre.org for more information.
Susanna is a Teaching Artist with Chicago's finest dance education companies, exposing hundreds of students to the art of dance each year. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Dance from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, where she was awarded the David Wick Prize for Choreography. Susanna enjoys performing, keeping up with the city's performance scenes, and traveling.