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Summer with Alvin Ailey

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater held a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this week. Ambitiously, the troupe alternated two programs and changed up casting a remarkable amount for so few shows. The programs, titled Contemporary Visions and All Ailey, were split into newer works (all were listed as new productions in 2023) and older company classics (including the stalwart “Revelations”). I wish I could’ve gone multiple times to see the various pieces and interpreters. I particularly wanted to see “Revelations” in the warm weather. Like the song “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music, “Revelations” has been coopted by the holiday season. The AADT performs it without fail at their City Center residency each December. Although I now associate it with mistletoe and holly, it really is a summery piece—with its sun umbrellas and fans and hazy amber lighting. Sigh, maybe next time. I did, however, make it to the contemporary program on opening night. It was a brief affairrunning just an hour with an intermission—but the works were rich and the dancers were great, so I didn’t feel slighted. If you tacked on a nice dinner afterward it was a perfect night.   

Performance

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: “Ode” by Jamar Roberts, “Solo” by Hans van Manen, “Following the Subtle Current Upstream” by Alonzo King

Place

Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY, June 7, 2024

Words

Faye Arthurs

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in “Ode” by Jamar Roberts. Photograph by Tony Turner

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The Contemporary Visions program opened with Jamar Roberts’s “Ode,” from 2019, which commemorates victims of gun violence. “Ode” begins with a dancer curling off the floor into a supplicant riff on a boat pose from yoga, just like the humble writhing in the “I Wanna Be Ready” solo from “Revelations.” While “I Wanna Be Ready” is always danced by a male, “Ode” is performed with either an all-male or all-female cast of six. During the BAM run, two different groups of women danced it. Khalia Campbell, Caroline T. Dartey, Samantha Figgins, Ashley Kaylynn Green, Alisha Rena Peek, and especially Jacquelin Harris were tremendous on the first night. Roberts shuffles between gentle and hard-hitting movements in “Ode” as he depicts both the suffering and the healing that take place in the aftermath of violence. The women skillfully adapted to the fluctuating demands of the piece.  

Contrast is everywhere, starting with the wonderful set by Libby Stadstad: a beautiful floral tornado imposed upon a cold black backdrop. Don Pullen’s score—"Suite (Sweet) Malcolm (Part 1 Memories and Gunshots)”—is also both hard and soft by turns. The piano instrumentation is key: few instruments can range from so watery to so percussive, and Pullen yoyos effectively between the extremes. So did Roberts, who countered fluid, unison group dances with spasmodic solo eruptions. Circle formations were either inclusive of the whole cast or pointedly exclusionary, with Harris reeling at the center. Vertical military lines absorbed or deposited lone, raging dancers in turn, signifying either protest or resignation. Roberts designed the women’s lovely ombré dresses, which went from blush to deep brown and also echoed the many phases of the healing journey. 

Chalvar Monteiro in Hans van Manen's “Solo.” Photograph by Daniel Azoulay

The program took a lighter turn following intermission, with Hans van Manen’s whimsical “Solo,” from 1997, set to two Bach partitas. Manen’s humor was evident from the get-go, considering that “Solo” was actually a trio. The terrific group of Chalvar Monteiro, James Gilmer, and Xavier Mack nailed this funny yet technically challenging frolic, which was at times like a baroque take on “Sinner Man” from “Revelations.” (In fact, these three men danced that number the next night.) Noncommittal shrugs and pony steps alternated with dazzling turn sequences and impressive corkscrews through grand plié. My favorite moment was when Monteiro finished one of his solos by hitting a six o’clock penché on a high note in the score. He froze there for a second, then exited—like a court jester mocking Balanchine’s “Rubies” soloist. 

This lark was followed by Alonzo King’s “Following the Subtle Current Upstream,” from 2000. King includes a quote from the Baghavad Gita about the eternal nature of the soul in the program notes for this work, which he has described as “a piece about how to return to joy.” The enlightenment symbolism was clear throughout. The ballet began in smoky darkness and ended with the descent of a light bulb overhead (the lighting was by Al Crawford after Axel Morgenthaler). Likewise, the men opened “Current” in murky mesh and velvet costumes before ceding the stage to the women, who were clad in vibrant yellow leotards with slats on their backs and stiff little Jetson tutus framing their leg. They resembled bumblebees. These fun costumes, by Robert Rosenwasser, felt apt. They women mostly buzzed around happily, but they possessed such power that you didn’t doubt they could sting if they wanted to.  

Samantha Figgins in Alonzo King's “Following the Subtle Current Upstream.” Photograph by Paul Kolnik

True to King’s promise, “Current” sure did build to an ecstatic conclusion. The dancers relished their full-bodied movements to the funky African woodblock and chime score by Zakir Hussain, Miguel Frasconi, and Miriam Makeba. I liked the way King heard the music, and particularly how he depicted Makeba’s singing, setting her exhalations to both rising and falling movements. I liked too how King illustrated the different currents within the score, sometimes pitting frenetic soloists against adagio groupwork at half tempo. The entire cast of 10 was excellent, with Samantha Figgins, Ashley Kaylynn Green, Ashley Mayeux, Yannick Lebrun and Christopher R. Wilson really shining in moments.                           

This is the second year in a row that AADT has dropped by BAM in June, with support from those canny jeweler balletomanes at Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels. Last year marked the company’s first trip to the theater in a decade. I hope they can continue this summer stint in Brooklyn. This is a company that deserves NYC exposure in every season. 

Faye Arthurs


Faye Arthurs is a former ballet dancer with New York City Ballet. She chronicled her time as a professional dancer in her blog Thoughts from the Paint. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Fordham University. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner and their sons.

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