Celebrity Series of Boston's "Alvin Ailey Dance Theater": Still Revealing

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's "Revelations"
(photo: Gert Krautbauer) 

What can one say about a dance company that has been enthralling audiences and critics for the past six decades? That would be the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which has held a significant position on the global dance stage since its inception way back in 1958. Few if any professional performing arts organizations can lay claim to that kind of history. A much beloved staple of the Celebrity Series of Boston since 1968, the company returns this spring to the Boch Center Wang Theater for five performances, each of them including a fascinating mix of Boston and company premieres as well as their signature piece, Revelations (which had its world premiere in 1960). In addition, there will be pieces such as Deep (2016, in its Boston premiere), Walking Mad (2016 both company and Boston premiere) Ella (also a company and Boston premiere), The Winter in Lisbon (new production), Untitled American (world premiere), After the Rain Pas de Deux and r-Evolution, Dream (world premiere).

At the performance on April 27, the program consisted of Deep, Walking Mad, Ella and of course Revelations. (The performance on Saturday April 29 at 8pm duplicates this program).  Deep, choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti, was enhanced by the music of Ibeyi (twin sisters who sing in both English and Yoruba). Walking Mad was the work of choreographer Johan Inger and featured music from Ravel (Bolero) and Arvo Part, as well as a whimsical moving wall (if the concept of a wall can be an object of whimsy in our politically skewed era). Ella was choreographed by Robert Battle (the company's current Artistic Director) to the scat singing of the great Ella Fitzgerald's Airmail Special, an amazingly challenging workout for Michael Francis McBride and Renaldo Maurice.  Revelations was of course first choreographed by the company's namesake. Alvin Ailey took the balletic world by storm back in 1960 when this work had its premiere, and it has continued to thrill audiences ever since, this time with Belen Pereyra, in her sixth year with the piece. It never failed in the past to bring an audience to its feet, and this was no exception. In the end, this was a well-chosen quartet of works that demonstrated the breadth and depth of this company, from its percussive music and dance in Deep to the humor of the Magritte-like Walking Mad to the scattershot Ella (with its nods to tunes such as The Ballad of Davy Crockett) to the wondrous Revelations.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's "Revelations"
(photo: Gert Krautbauer)

The remaining performances are variations from the nine works on offer. Both the Saturday April 29 matinee at 2pm and the Sunday April 30 matinee at 3pm include The Winter in Lisbon and r-Evolution Dream as well as After the Rain Pas de Deux and Revelations. Lisbon, by choreographer Billy Wilson, features music from Dizzy Gillespie's four decades of composing. Choreographer Hope Boykin's r-Evolution Dream is based on sermons and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, utilizing music by jazz drummer Ali Jackson and narrated by Tony Award winner (for Hamilton) Leslie Odom, Jr. After the Rain Pas de Deux is a former favorite since 2005, with music by Arvo Part, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. The program on Friday evening April 28 at 8pm consists of Winter in Lisbon, After the Rain Pas de Deux, and Revelations. It also includes the only performance during this visit of Untitled America, a company and Boston premiere of a piece choreographed by Kyle Abraham, which presents the issues encountered by African American families dealing with the prison system and includes spoken word interviews. It features music by Laura Mvula, Raime, Carsten Nicolai and Kris Bowers, along with traditional spirituals such as No More My Lord.
Thus it's obvious that any one of the programs to be presented this season has its unique yet complementary place in the work of this company, still a revelation even for the most avid balletomanes. What can you say about this company? Everything good, and that art matters. 

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