Last week one of my dance friends sent me a text that put me into a (happy) tizzy. She had planned to go see Alvin Ailey on their annual tour through Boston with a friend, but the friend ended up having a conflict. Would I like the ticket… free?
This friend and I had gone to see Ailey together last year and had a great time. Couldn’t wait to go again!
Coincidentally I had just watched Carmen & Geoffrey earlier in the week (another dance flick from my Netflix queue). If you’ve not heard of that documentary I highly recommend you watch it. Inspiring on many levels… the love story between the two and the incredible depth and breadth of talent the pair has. Carmen de Lavallade was the woman who, it could be argued, launched Alvin Ailey. Ailey and de Lavallade were in high school together and she was taking classes with Lester Horton and brought Ailey to class with her. The rest, it could be said, was history. Ailey and de Lavallade were very close and performed together quite a lot. In fact when Ailey was first touring internationally the company was called the De Lavallade – Ailey American Dance Theater.
Oh, and Geoffrey Holder is an equally fascinating person. Talented choreographer, artist, and altogether fascinating person. Seriously, watch that film!!!
Anyway, to the Wang Theatre we went… huge, gorgeous theatre. BB used to dance there, but through a variety of things (largely political, I’m sure) they left for the Boston Opera House a few years ago. I like the Opera House because I feel like you can be a bit closer to the stage. But the Wang is gorgeous for its grandeur. Really, you can’t go wrong either way!
The show we went to was a tribute to Renee Robinson who was giving her farewell performance to Boston. I believe she technically retired from Ailey last year as the program listed her as a guest performer and showed her dates with the company as 1981-2012. A 31 year career, can you believe it? She is the only dancer in the company to have performed for all three artistic directors: Mr. Ailey himself, Judith Jameson, and Robert Battle. The insert in the playbill highlighted the great things Ms. Robinson has done for dance education in Boston, introducing children to the arts year after year throughout her remarkable tenure with the company. The house was packed with her many fans.
I was slightly disappointed to see that the company was not performing Petite Mort (Kylián) on this particular evening (they were performing it on other nights), but hardly upset to see that our program included eight excerpts of Alvin Ailey’s own ballets along with the never-boring, and ever-uplifting “Revelations” (1960).
It showcased the incredible breadth of Ailey’s vision. Excerpts were from: “Memoria” (1979), “Night Creature” (1974), “Phases” (1980), “Opus McShann” (1988), “Love Songs” (1972), “For ‘Bird’ — With Love” (1984), “Hidden Rites” (1973), and “Cry” (1971). Some were soul-stirring, some were invigorating, some were groovy, and some were just plain fun. Seeing selections of all these works in one evening made it obvious why the company is perhaps THE preeminent modern company in the world.
The excerpt from “Memoria” was the one I found most stirring. Chills constantly zipped up my spine while I was watching.
The others were equally intriguing in their diversity. “Night Creature” was set to a jazzy score and yet I noticed a lot of traditional ballet moves in there. There was an entire section of very brisk allegro: sisonnes, jétés battus, glissades, etc. “For ‘Bird’ — With Love” felt like an after-hours jazz club. “Love Songs” was achingly poignant.
And then, of course, “Revelations”. The piece that made me fall in love with Ailey and modern dance back when I was 13 years old has not lost any of its soul-stirring quality in the many times I’ve seen in. In fact, I think this was perhaps the most wonderful I’ve ever seen, perhaps because of Ms. Robinson’s presence. Or perhaps because a different movement of the piece speaks to me each time. “Wade in the Water” and “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” are the ones I always remember, but the one that made me stand up and take notice this time was “Sinner Man.”
The audience deserves some credit for the awesomeness of the evening. For one, it was an evening to honor the first responders of the Boston Marathon bombing. For another… I don’t know, sometimes when I go to BB I feel like the audience is there out of some sense of duty. There always seems to be a contingent of people who are zipping for the exit the moment the performers start taking their bows for the final curtain call (RUDE, people!!!). This audience paid rapt attention throughout the show, even those back in the nosebleed section with us. They were on their feet at the conclusion of “Revelations” and I saw hardly any early exiters.
Altogether amazing (though I expected nothing less). Congratulations to Ms. Robinson on her tremendous career and, as always, a huge thanks to Mr. Ailey and those who have come since and preserved and grown his company to the heights it has reached. If I could have a wish granted to have the talent and strength to dance professionally that would be my dream company, hands down.