Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, April 6-10, 2022
In Brief: The Ailey troupe brought some sensational dancing and choreography, some less than sensational dancing and choreography, and one of the most enduring crowd pleasers in the history of American dance to The Music Center on Wednesday night to kick off a five-day Los Angeles run that had originally been scheduled for March of 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic struck, summarily closing theaters across the country.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's signature "Revelations"
Overall, the program was pleasurable rather than provocative.
The evening’s first ballet, Busk, impressed the most, offering strong, compelling solo dancing, especially from Lloyd A. Boyd III, and precise, cohesive ensemble work. Aszure Barton created mesmerizing choreography that started with direct references to mimes, clowns, and other street performers – buskers – but quickly became abstract, so that by the end it wasn’t clear what her message was.
Michelle Jank's costumes, plain black oversized hooded jackets and baggy pants, signaled we might be in Ingmar Bergman territory. Nicole Pearce’s stark lighting against a black backdrop provided the only decor and added to the impression by explicitly evoking the severe, unsettling shadows of German expressionistic films like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
All of this was set to a jumble of musical styles, ranging from bossa nova to modern minimalist to 19th century Swedish choral works. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did, thanks to first-rate ensemble work that transcended the confines of individual elements and affirmed Barton’s sure command of her dancers, as well as her keen artistic sensibilities.
Ailvin Ailey American Dance Theater in "Busk"
The second act consisted of two brief works by Robert Battle, the company’s artistic director. Ella, set to Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing, was generally frenetic and overwrought, performed with boundless enthusiasm but not much precision by Jacquelin Harris and Patrick Coker. It was hard to believe that these were the same artists who had danced so meticulously and with such purpose in Busk. Love Stories, danced to Stevie Wonder’s music, was equally frivolous. More than anything, both ballets served as palate cleansers for what was to come.
Ailey’s signature work, Revelations, reflects the African-American experience through the lens of his small Texas town Christian upbringing. Its ten parts are set to intermittently meditative or uplifting traditional spirituals and gospel music.
Its trademarks – the Jesus on the cross imagery in the first section, vivid yellow and white costumes later on, the dazzling white umbrellas held aloft with pride and defiance as the dancers crisscross the stage, and the rousing conclusion set to Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham – still feel fresh and meaningful some 60 years after its premiere.
Revelations combines large measures of artistry and entertainment. It is deservedly beloved. Though Ailey died in 1989, we are lucky that his legacy survives in this disciplined company of fine dancers eager to present his vision to new generations exactly as he intended it.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.musiccenter.org