MIAMI — Alvin Ailey’s innovative choreography opened the doors for other African-American dance artists. His troupe is world renowned, and has been dubbed the cultural ambassador of the world.
The company’s international touring cycle includes Paris, the Middle East and Europe.
The latest tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater brought the troupe to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County last week. I was fortunate enough to review the performance.
Ailey began his professional career in 1953, with dance instructor Lester Horton’s company in California. There, he learned different dance techniques, such as classical ballet, jazz and Native American dance. When Horton passed away, Ailey became the company’s artistic director at 22 years old. He was there for a few years before he was invited to New York City to perform on Broadway. There, he performed for the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in New York. His performance, along with that of other African-American dancers, garnered him enough recognition to start his own company in 1957.
Ailey died in 1989. But his legacy lives on in the forms of several dance outlets: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ailey II Dance Company. There is also an Ailey School of Dance for children looking to hone their dance skills, The Ailey School/Fordham University Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Dance, the Ailey Extension dance classes for all non dancers, and Ailey Camp, a day camp for teenagers.
Just before Ailey passed away, he left his company in the very capable hands of Judith Jamison, who danced with Ailey for 15 years (from 1965 to 1980) before taking the leadership of the company.
As the artistic director of the dance troupe, Jamison has kept alive Ailey’s rich tradition. Just watching the 50th anniversary performance, I became convinced that Jamison is really good at what she does. Of course, Jamison isn’t solely responsible for the success of the dance troupe. Masazumi Chaya, associate artistic director and Ronni Favors, rehearsal director, as well as the 30 company dancers, obviously give their all in each and every performance.
The three main performances of the dance troupe on April 18 were “Festa Barocca,” “Solo” and “Revelations.” Each performance is a classical masterpiece in its own right. Each is performed with perfection.
In “Festa Barocca,” I was visually blessed with the many Caribbean colors and seemingly unhinged movements. From the first few moments, I realized that these dancers are far from ordinary. The way they are able to bend their bodies, alone, is almost unnatural.
Now, I follow yoga philosophy, so I’m no stranger to seeing people in weird and uncomfortable-looking positions, presenting them as if they are totally natural. But these dancers are no amateurs. Not to knock professional ballet dancers, but with the quick movements, advanced yoga styles, Martha Graham-inspired ballet, urban movements, and all of the other types of dance, this group seemed like the best of the best of dancers.
On to “Solo,” the broad movements of the three dancers in this piece are amazing. It’s humorous and filled with great specimens of the male physique. But “Solo” isn’t my favorite Ailey piece, to date; although it is quite good.
My favorite Ailey piece, and the most popular, is “Revelations.” My favorite scenes from “Revelations” are “Processional/Honor, Honor” and “Wade in the Water.”
I love the use of Caribbean blue and white. The colors alone had me mesmerized. Also, the piece is quite moving, romantic and visually pleasing.
Yet the most entertaining piece of the night is the finale, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.” This piece alone gave me goose bumps with the lively dancers who looked like they were having a better time than the hyped-up audience members. I’ve never seen happier dancers.
My only regret for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 50th Anniversary tour is that I did not get to see more.
This was my first time viewing an Ailey performance. It was moving, energetic, entertaining, and filled with such black pride that it was easy to leave the theater/auditorium high on life.
We owe it to ourselves and our children as African Americans to watch a show performed by this dance theater. It will enhance black pride, just like the latest presidential election.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater troupe members performed last week at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.