Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater | Dance review
When Robert Battle assumed directorship of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011, he never intended to stray from the company’s identity. But what we’re seeing now, more than a year into Battle’s tenure, is someone who understands the limits of a company’s past, even if that past is still popular beyond belief. He’s not changing identities, per se, but he’s also not resting on proven laurels.
Nothing, for example, says “Ailey” like Alvin Ailey's Revelations, which faithfully concludes each performance of the troupe’s unprecedented ten-performance run at the Auditorium Theatre, ending Sunday 17. It’s the piece everyone wants to see, and it’s still the masterpiece it’s always been.
In contrast, nothing defies Ailey (in theory) like Jiri Kylian’s elegant Petite Mort, which rotates among programs over the course of Ailey’s stay in Chicago. Kylian’s sensual seductions, steeped in a much more rigid style of contemporary ballet than an Ailey dancer is used to, delivers almost in the same way that Hubbard Street’s has delivered in the past, if not slightly less comfortably. But that's not necessarily unusual, given the short amount of time the piece has been in the Ailey rep. It would be no different than if Hubbard Street took on Ailey’s Revelations for the first time. As with all adjustments, things take time. (See Ailey perform Petite Mort again in a year and it may trump Hubbard Street’s.)
Kyle Abraham’s Another Night, set to the expert jazz of Dizzy Gilespie, began last week’s opening night performance, and is designed with Ailey dancers in mind. The skill, the soul, the fun-loving enthusiasm: It’s everything an audience wants. A combination of rampant energy and enthused gyrations, Abraham’s work captures a youthful playfulness, using the most difficult of modern/contemporary techniques.
Robert Battle’s Strange Humors, a rousing duet between two male dancers, completes the four-piece program. On any other program, it’s likely a standout, but here, it’s an appetizer before the main course, where Revelations (1960) seems destined to defy expectations no matter the era. The sense of grace, and even the fears that Revelations is based on, command the stage with unparalleled spirit, as do the dancers.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at the Auditorium Theatre through Sunday 17.