ALVIN AILEY | 60

During a mild, yet rainy winter evening at the New York City Center, I was once again able to enjoy the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater during one of its 60th anniversary performances, and it was delightful experience.

The night began with a short tribute video montage of the history of Alvin Ailey up until now. A grouping of visual effects and footage pulled from history to whet the palette.

The program was heavily focused on several of current Artistic Director Robert Battle’s choreographed works. The performance opened with Juba, the first work that he crafted specifically for the dance company. The piece is described by the official Ailey website “as a modern day Rite of Spring with an abstract twist—an electrifying thrill ride through ritual and folk tradition.” It was a great starting point for the evening as it was rather brief, but primed the audience for what was to follow.

Ella was a lighter, comical piece, but for me personally, the real star here was Ella Fitzgerald’s amazing scatting session. The dancing was fast-paced and furious making significant hits matching the intensity of the singing.

No Longer Silent was a statement piece and not necessarily my favorite, but the message behind it was important. The dances were linear and militaristic; more like marches. The most important part of this dance for me happened as all the dancers line up, and another dancer walks slowly in the background — it was reminiscent of a death march; a chilling prospect given the subject matter of World War 2 and concentration camps. The piece was an anniversary composition honoring the death of the composer and the liberation of Auschwitz and Buchenwald camps.

The most personally impactful performance of the evening was the solo, IN/SIDE featuring the talented Yannick Lebrun. Set to Nina Simone’s Wild is the Wind, the official site describes the piece as “an intimate look at a man’s most private struggles”. What struck me about the dance was how purposeful each movement was combined with the inherent vulnerability of being a solo dancer on stage. It takes a certain amount of experience, charisma, and technical ability to pull off a solo act, and it was performed beautifully.

The night was concluded with the performance of Mass. What amused me about this performance was that it seemed like a “choral” piece, or a group performing a Gregorian chant given the costumes. I looked up the origin of the piece after I saw it, and Robert Battle even states that he was inspired by a performance of Verdi’s Requiem —how the chorus moved into the pews. As someone who has performed in several choruses, this was probably the most relatable in terms of another performance art mimicking my chosen genre.

JUBA (2003)
Choreography: Robert Battle
Staging: Elisa Clark
Orginal Score: John Mackey
Costumes: Mia McSwain
Lighting: Burke Wilmore

ELLA (2008, Ailey 2016)
Choreography: Robert Battle
Staging: Marlena Wolfe
Music Peformance: Ella Fitzgerald
Costumes: Jon Taylor
Lighting: Burke Wilmore

NO LONGER SILENT (2007, Ailey 2015)
Choreography: Robert Battle
Staging: Marlena Wolfe
Music: Erwin Schullhoff
Set Design: Mimi Lien
Costumes: Fritz Masten
Lighting: Nicole Pearce

IN/SIDE (2008, Ailey 2009)
Choreography: Robert Battle
Music Performance: Nina Simone
Lighting: Burke Wilmore

MASS (2004, Ailey 2017)
Choreography: Robert Battle
Staging: Elisa Clark
Music / Direction: John Mackey / Damien Bassman
Costumes: Fritz Masten
Lighting: Burke Wilmore

THESE THOUGHTS ARE BASED ON THE DECEMBER 21, 2018 PERFORMANCE.