Ailey: The Revelation of Relevance

Linda Celeste Sims in Wayne McGregor's Chroma. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Now in the midst of its 45th-annual season at New York City Center, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has expanded its repertoire to be more versatile artistically. It boasts four world premieres, two company premieres and five new productions. The dancers have to be strong physically and mentally. And they have to be ready for relevance.

The current repertoire, under the direction of Robert Battle,  ranges from Ailey classics like Blues Suite and Revelations to the stretched, wacked-out Chroma by Wayne McGregor; from Rennie Harris’ house-dancing Exodus to Robert Battle’s edifying new Awakening; from Judith Jamison’s sensual A Case of You (one of my faves) to Aszure Barton’s tribal LIFT; from Christopher Wheeldon’s spare After the Rain to Paul Taylor’s spicy Piazzola Caldera. Many styles, many moods, many textures.

But the dancers also have to be ready for socially wrenching work. Kyle Abraham’s new Untitled America: First Movement takes account of racial issues like the preponderance of black men being incarcerated. (The second and third movements will be developed in the next two years.) A couple weeks ago, Dance Magazine interviewed Chalvar Monteiro about dancing in Kyle Abraham’s new piece.

Jacqueline Green in Kyle Abraham's Untitled America First Movement. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

As Monteiro says, “To have an institution of this magnitude that celebrates culture, especially black culture—what it is to be black right now in the world. It’s super important to take away the veil and talk about the things that aren’t so pretty about the place we call home.”

This could have been said back in 1961 when Alvin Ailey created Revelations. That masterpiece was relevant to Ailey’s own experience growing up in the South; it has since become less specific and more general about transcending suffering; its universality is recognized all over the world. Now Kyle Abraham’s piece focuses on the specific: in this case, the truth about the huge numbers of nonviolent black men who are sent to prison. This is something our culture should be looking at, and Abraham has found a way to do that. Kudos to Ailey—and Abraham—for keeping the revelations relevant.

For more about the season, which lasts until January 3, click here.

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