ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE @ THE CUTLER MAJESTIC THEATRE
On Tuesday, April 28th the Celebrity Series of Boston once again brought the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater troupe up from their New York City base. The seats at the Opera House were dotted with men in coats and ties and florally perfumed ladies in cocktail dresses smelling like very sweet floral perfumes. The folksose who had attended the a dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Boston Common before the show as part of the evening’s “Standing O! Gala” fundraising event, carried toted little bags of free goodies. As the lights lowered for the opening act—a video to celebrate the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s fiftieth anniversary—the audience hushed as if we were collectively entering a museum. However, once the dancing began and the sounds of jazz, gospel, spirituals, and Otis Redding filled the air, the audience started clapping and cheering like college kids at a Kanye West concert. Watching the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, this audience knew, is not just about dance -; it’s about having a good time.
The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, founded by Alvin Ailey as a welcoming space for black modern dancers, is known for aerobic feates, high energy, and fun, and on Tuesdaythat night the dancers met all expectations. Though the third and final piece of the evening—“Revelations”—would almost have been stale if the dancers did not come out for an encore, the first two performances were moving, humorous, clever, and just plain joyful.
“Go in Grace,” the opening number of the evening, was as much about the singing as the dancing. For this thirty minute number, the gospel- and blues-inspired group Sweet Honey in the Rock joined the dancers on stage and moved with them to tell a story about a black patriarch and the heartache his family faces in the wake of his death. Throughout the piece, the audience saw the delightful Rosalyn Deshauteurs, as “Little Girl,” progressed from a little girl in pigtails to a grown woman. As a preteen, the members of Sweet Honey in the Rocks surrounded her and like a Greek chorus advised her to: “Keep your heart wide open” and her legs shut tight. However, when Little Girl mourned her father they could not tell her anything that would ease her pain. As Little Girl swirled and mimicked standing on her father’s feet and spinning her heartache was almost palpable. Her strong movements, set to the powerful, rafter-shaking sounds of a Sweet Honey Brown soloist’s voice, made the hope-filled ending that much more poignant.
The second piece, “Suite Otis,” was choreographed in 1971 as a tribute to the late singer Otis Redding. Though, “Revelations” was choreographed by Ailey himself in 1960 and was groundbreaking for how it celebrated race, tradition, and modern dance, “Suite Otis” was the highlight of opening night. The short twenty- minutes sequence opened with a bang. The all- black cast appeared on stage to the sound of Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” The women were dressed in bright pink dresses that fluttered out from their knees like flower petals and the men wore pink pants with pink shirts. When the two sexes got together it was as if a giant tank of Pepto-Bismol had exploded on stage.
“Suite Otis,” was a perfect blend of athleticism and humor—during “My Lover’s Prayer,” a male female duet, the two dancers had their faces together and their butts thrust out as they did a mock slow dance—and athleticism. Another pieceThe final number to, “Try a Little Tenderness,” was simply jaw- dropping and during it the well-heeled audience could barely contain its enthusiasm during its performance. Full of liquid arms movements and back bends that still have me convinced that Alvin Ailey dancers have Twizzlers in their backs instead offor spines, “Try a Little Tenderness” allowed the performers to show off their prodigious talents.
The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater troupe is not afraid to move with the music instead of against it. The dancers challenge themselves physically but at the same time dabble in sentimentality. Alvin Ailey Dance Theater is not above being accessible and telling good stories, and that is what makes them such a thrill to see over and over again.
"Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
50th Anniversary Celebration " was at The Opera House in Boston April 28 - May 3, 2009.
All images are courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.