I've seen the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform many times and it never fails that I am struck by the scope and humanity of the experience. I had the pleasure of seeing the group perform again recently at this tour's opening night in Atlanta's Fox Theater. The occasion marked artistic director Judith Jamison's last tour with the company and for the night, Atlanta delivered it's largest yet audience for the AAADT with an estimated 4,200 in attendance. Again, I've seen Ailey many times, which also to say that I've seen the show's mainstay Revelations performed many times - the piece, choreographed by the company's namesake, is performed in every show and is the most performed modern dance performance ever. I was prepared for the spiritual and visual journey that comes along with seminal piece but had not come prepared to once again be moved, enlightened, and changed.
The run of show included pieces that I'd never seen performed before. It featured Three Black Kings, a three-part ballet by Ailey himself that tells the stories of Balthazar of the Nativity; Solomon, King of Israel; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The piece had not been performed in full for nearly 30 years. It is set to a score by Duke Ellington and ends with a sweeping interpretation of the Civil Rights Movement that became especially poignant being in the movement's seat and the birthplace of Dr. King. At the opening of the show Jamison commented on the history between Ailey and Atlanta saying, "We go back to Andrew Young, back to when Mrs. King used to cook for us on the side."
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|Jamison and Battle, photo by Andrew Eccles|
"There is nothing like celebrating the African-American cultural experience," said Jamison at the opening of the show and that is exactly what the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is: a celebration. As the company moves into its next 50 years with Robert Battle as artistic director, audiences are hopeful that it will continue to be a cultural ambassador to the world and opening eyes of to the significance of dance.
In the Fox, I saw Ailey through new eyes. Aside from the new compositions featured in theat the performance and the pending changes with Jamison's departure, I had the opportunity to experience it all from the perspective of my niece, who was my date for the show. She, an aspiring dancer at 11, left the show raving of how beautiful the dancers were and how much of the show she could understand and identify with. Despite my having been to countless performances by the AAADT, I was able to once again see the lasting contribution of Ailey, Jamison, and the many dancers. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater highlights everything that is rich and dazzling about Black expression. There is something in it for everyone, at every performance, because it has passionate and pure human emotion at its core. It is storytelling at its finest and not to be missed.
Upcoming performances of Ailey are set for Feb. 15 in Clearwater, FL and Feb 17-20 in Miami. Find more Ailey events here.