Fifty Years and One Night of Ailey

December 7, 2008

If you haven’t seen
with live music, do whatever you have to in order to see it. Oprah Winfrey was right when she said at the gala Wednesday night, something like, “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the Ailey company do Revelations.”

These dancers know these steps so well that when there’s an unexpected raspy or gorgeous note, you can see them revel in the surprise and joy of it.

Hope Boykin, dead center in “I Been ’Buked,” carried all the faith and suffering in her body; Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims wrung your heart in “Fix Me Jesus”—with the help of Jessye Norman no less; Renee Robinson exploded with exuberance in “Wade in the Water,” and Matthew Rushing rippling his bare torso
the water. And of course, all the dancers tore up the floor in “Rocka my Soul.”I could watch the women with their fans and the men with their elbows all night.

Earlier in the evening, former Ailey star Donna Wood paced the stage elegantly as she explained excerpts of
Blues Suite
(1958), Cry (1971), Streams (1970), Masekela Language (1969), and Memoria (1970).

To see
Blues Suite,
which was done during the Ailey company’s debut 50 years ago at the 92nd Street Y, you can see why there was instant buzz about Alvin Ailey. It was interesting to note that the piece uses stools and sassy women—early shades of Revelations, which was made three years later. Clearly Ailey had a vision of the glory of African Americans dancing onstage.

When the applause died down, all the dancers faced upstage, where appeared an image of Mr. Ailey (who died in 1988), and they placed their flowers on the floor for him. Judith Jamison and Masaumi Chaya were the last to leave.