I’m not exaggerating when I say that Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater changed my life.
When I was 13 years of age my ballet teacher at the time (a woman I only had for a year, but who is deserving of her own post — or three — for what she did for my dance education) arranged for her students to go see them when they were touring through the city I lived in at the time. Looking back, I can’t remember if it was Ailey II or AAADT that we saw, though from what I remember of the size of the company, it must have been AAADT. Anyway…
As I was saying, I was 13 at the time. My exposure to dance prior to that point was fairly limited. A few local civic ballet productions of the Nutcracker, the recitals my once and future dance studio put on, that sort of thing. I was the one kid in my string of combo classes who actually liked ballet (everyone else proclaimed it “boring” so we didn’t tend to do much of it in our 45-60 minute jazz-tap-ballet class). So when I had the opportunity to take ballet at this studio, one that happened to take ballet quite seriously, I was all over it. Balletballetballet. That’s what I wanted to do. The end.
Oh-ho, but so NOT the end. Miss Emily took us to the local college campus to see Ailey. And oh, did I see Ailey.
Keep in mind, I was 13. It was not cool to be impressed by much of anything with the plethora of hormones surging through my body. But in spite of that, I thought they were So Cool (or whatever it was we said in the early ’90s). I still remember Revelations and feeling like the world opened up to me while I watched them dance on stage. I would never look at dance the same way again.
In part, it opened my eyes to modern. And I’ve seen various other modern companies over time, all with their own bent and inspiration. But Ailey… well, Ailey is in a league all to itself. I find it hard to put into words the awe I feel when I see these dancers perform.
So you can imagine my excitement when I got the season brochure from one of our local colleges stating that Ailey II was going to be on their stage. A stage that I, myself, have performed on. Okay, I guess that’s not such a big deal, but still… it makes me shiver a little to think of these world-class dancers changing in the very same dressing room I have! Standing in the same wings I’ve stood in! Dancing on the same stage!
Okay, enough giddiness.
Ailey II, in my very own neck of the woods. You bet your sweet bippy I wasn’t going to pass this chance by!
To sweeten the deal, students at our studio were able to get discounted tickets to see the show. If you get a chance to see any professional dance for under $15 you go… you hear me! GO!!!
The director at our studio ordered a block of tickets for those of us who were interested. What better than experiencing Ailey than getting to share it with your dance fam?
On the program for the evening: Echoes (2008, Thang Dao), Rusty (2012, Benoit-Swan Pouffer), and Divining (1984, Judith Jamison…. JUDITH JAMISON!!!!).
[Brief reminder, I’m the worlds crappiest dance reviewer, so forgive me.]
Echoes. Okay, here, watch this:
There’s a little taste of Echoes. I was surprised at how… balletical it was! This was a side of Ailey that I haven’t seen much previously. Of course, you know all the dancers have a strong ballet background, but it was nice to see it highlighted on the stage. The typical explosive power was mingled with the beautiful flowing lines of a more traditional aesthetic and it was truly stunning. The way the group worked together, particularly in the canon sections… it was absolutely riveting. The music by Ezio Bosso was clean with a strong classical tinge (I swear I heard a variation on Pachelbel’s Canon in there!) and was as pleasing to the ear as the dance was to the eye. And speaking of the eye, I actually quite liked the costuming. It was basic, men in short unitards cut low in the front, women in short unitards with a flowing, tunic/scarf-like over the top, all in shades of gray. Like the rest of the piece, clean, but flowing. The color was muted, but allowed the dancing to take center stage, with just the flow of the women’s costumes adding to the choreography.
Rusty is a new piece, so sadly no Vimeo trailer to post for you. I wish there was! The choreographer is a former Ailey dancer and per the Ailey website this piece is meant to explore the experiences of young artists, both the challenges and the relationships. I truly enjoyed this piece, in part because of the moments of humor interspersed throughout. Every so often there would be a part where you felt that that dancer on stage was talking to you in the audience… At one point I remember a dancer standing in a pool of light and I believe the voice-over was talking about the experience of dance, and he did the “finger-twirl in the air” which, if you’ve ever marked anything in dance, you’re probably familiar with… it’s the thing you do with your hands when marking a turn, i.e., I’m waving my index finger in a circle because this is where I’m supposed to turn, but I’m not going to actually turn right now. That. He did that. On stage. I’m pretty sure it was choreographed 😉 And it made me literally LOL. Luckily my young friend and my ballet teacher/friend next to me saw it, too, and shared in my snicker. I felt like I was in on some secret dancer joke… I really liked this piece. The costuming for this one was again fairly stark. Honestly, it looked like a bunch of people escaped from a Calvin Klein underwear shoot… well, except a lot of men (maybe all) were wearing pants. But the women… grey tank tops, shorts, mid-calf length black socks… looked like they just woke up from a nap and started dancing. But again, a fairly minimalist costuming that seemed appropriate for the dance.
And finally, Divining… which I was thrilled about simply because it was choreographed by the great Judith Jamison. Here, watch some:
This one I felt was quintessential Ailey… maybe because it was choreographed by Ms. Jamison, who I feel is nearly synonymous with Ailey at this point based on her long history with with the company as a dancer and artistic director. But it also featured the power I associate with Ailey dancers. The leaps that seem to hover in the air, balanced by a groundedness. The celebration of the African roots of many of the dancers in the music and the costuming (interestingly I saw a clip of a prior rendition and the costuming in that was all white… in the current version it is far more colorful). I also noticed that the women’s hair was in more natural styles which added something. The other two pieces featured more traditional, “tame” styles of twists… Divining had hair that took on a role of its own! But somehow instead of being a distraction it added to the overall feel of the piece.
Overall, an amazing evening. The question I asked myself prior to coming was whether it would feel obvious that I was watching the second company. In a way, maybe, yes, a bit. Though partly this is due to the fact that Ailey II is a smaller company. Maybe there were times it looked a bit less polished? Maybe? But I think it would be getting nitpicky to say so. Obviously the talent in this group is phenomenal and there’s nowhere to go but up for these dancers. Truly powerful, inspiring, and breathtaking.
The great thing about seeing the second company is that, well, I could actually SEE them! I saw AAADT in the spring during their annual tour through Big City and it was phenomenal, but I was so far away I needed opera glasses (which I sadly did not have) to have any clue what was going on. And those weren’t even the “cheap seats!” It was great to see a performance in a more intimate setting. My only wish is that they’d done a master class. Then my life would have been complete!
Point being… if you see Ailey II in a town near you… GO! Do not delay! Prepare to be awed!