Dance review: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater still suspenseful and dynamic | Arts

Dance review: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater still suspenseful and dynamic


  • photo by Andrew Eccles / courtesy of Carolina Performing Arts
  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Glenn Allen Sims
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Carolina Performing Arts
Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015

Despite heavy snowfall, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was on fire at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall, performing LIFT, Bad Blood and Revelations. The performances were dynamic and bold, soulful and experimental. The high-contrast movement ranged from clustered to spread-out formations; from dancers acting light-footed to presenting the illusion of weight; from sustained to sudden motions. In duets and large groups, the choreography was equally vibrant.

The late Alvin Ailey was a disciple of Lester Horton, and the Horton Technique’s emphasis of clean extensions and a holistic awareness of oneself greatly influenced his pupil. Horton was a pioneer in that his company was one of the first to be racially integrated, incorporated Native American folk movements and helped popularize modern dance on the West Coast. Likewise, Ailey preserved African-American traditions and produced a unique niche within modern dance.

In the opening section of LIFT, male dancers smoldered to a pulsating rhythmic score. Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton emphasized a tribal feel in the piercing beats, with high step-hops and loud thigh slaps. The movement was large but attentive to fine details, such as the contrast between the flexing and pointing of feet. It was a piece that started out strong, but started to drag later. Certain sections felt lost on the audience, especially a duet where the female dancer uncomfortably burrowed her face on her male partner’s chest for a long duration.

The other two pieces picked up the pace and portrayed clearer messages. Bad Blood, choreographed by Ulysses Dove, intimately depicted the power struggle between men and women. It is a passionate, intense piece that contrasts soft sensuality with unbridled eroticism. In contrast to the delicate pas de deux seen in ballet, the duets in Bad Blood consist of partners charging into each other, executing daring lifts and holds.

Suspense was the ultimate factor in this piece, in which the music would unexpectedly crescendo and then immediately cut to silence as the dancers continued to dance. At the end, the music trailed off and revealed a recorded voice—a spoken-word text by Laurie Anderson, philosophically stating that with every step you take, “you are falling and catching yourself from falling.” Life is a constant power struggle, from the relationships we forge to the journeys we travel.

Revelations, an Alvin Ailey staple, especially shone. The piece was originally choreographed in 1960 by Ailey himself. Set to spirituals, it’s a soulful representation of the African-American struggle from slavery to freedom. Sectioned off into three parts, it transitions from the sorrows of slavery to the persistence of emancipation and, finally, to an exuberant sense of liberation.

The choreography is very pure. Modern dance-lovers could see Horton’s trademark steps, from iconic Egyptian arms to grueling coccyx balances (a movement where the head and legs are lifted from a resting position and parallel off the floor). Multiple pirouettes ending in lateral T poses, where the upper body tilts and one leg lefts parallel to the ground, seasoned the piece. Also remarkable were the transitions between formations, where dancers were able to change positions in one move, whether it be a cross-lunge or a turn. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater remains a significant representation of eclectic American culture, and as Oprah Winfrey told the nation several years ago, Revelations is something that every person should experience for themselves. 

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