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Old Love, New Love

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is once again ensconced New York City Center for its annual December season. The programs offer the usual mix of dances by Ailey, pieces by twentieth-century masters—which this year include Twyla Tharp’s “Roy’s Joys”—and new works commissioned from contemporary choreographers. And, of course, “Revelations.” At a recent performance, the patron behind me sighed unhappily upon hearing that Ailey’s 1960 masterpiece was not on the program.


Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Are You In Your Feelings?” and “Revelations”


New York City Center, New York, December 3, 2022


Marina Harss

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Kyle Abraham's “Are You in Your Feelings?” Photograph by Paul Kolnik

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But wonderful as it is, there is more to Ailey, and to the company, than “Revelations.” For three years, 2019-2022, the troupe has had a choreographer in residence, Jamar Roberts. (No announcement has been made concerning his departure at the end of his three-year contract, which I discovered by chance by checking the company website.) In Roberts’ time there, he made five works, including the excellent “Members Don’t Get Weary” and “Ode.” Roberts has an affinity with jazz, which he has mined for its expressive sound, improvisatory freedom, and groove. On a program of new works this past Saturday evening, his most recent dance for the company, “In a Sentimental Mood,” made earlier this year, returned.

Ghrai DeVore-Stokes and Chalvar Monteiro “In a Sentimental Mood” by Jamar Roberts. Photograph by Paul Kolnik

Here Roberts explores a genre that is new to him, the mini-dance drama. The piece could almost be a short film, and film noir is its clear point of reference. A couple meets in a room that has every appearance of being a rented hideaway where the two lovers have met many times before. The anonymous setting contains only a chair, a vase of flowers, and a coat rack, and is bathed in deep red light (by Brandon Stirling Baker). The woman is Ghrai DeVore-Stokes, one of the company’s most striking dancers, all smooth lines and sharp angles. She looks chic and nervous, like a Film Noir heroine, in her fedora and long coat, as Duke Ellington’s “There’s Something About an Old Love” plays, filling the air with an air of regret.

After much hesitation, she enters, and she and her “old love,” Chalvar Monteiro face each other. But all is not well. They are together but really more alone, bound only by the memory of a love. Chalvar thrashes and contorts his body, while DeVore-Stokes tries, and fails, to rekindle her feelings. She strokes his face, but then arches her body away. Their love is beyond repair. The dance is stylish and taut, and DeVore-Stokes is particularly compelling; she is an actress as well as a dancer. But Monteiro’s character is more difficult to read—his solos don’t show us much beyond his suffering. It will be interesting to see if Roberts continues to develop his skills as a storyteller. This feels like a brave first attempt.

Chalvar Monteiro and Ashley Green in “Are You in Your Feelings?” by Kyle Abraham. Photograph by Paul Kolnik

The other new work was a premiere, “Are You In Your Feelings?,” by the greatly in-demand Kyle Abraham. It’s easy to see why Abraham is so popular. His movement language is a seductive mix of silken undulations and ripples in the upper body, coolly nonchalant gesture—smoothing shirts, brushing shoulders—, ballet steps, and loose-limbed, relaxed traversals of space. The dancers look gorgeous, and seem to connect personally to its groove. It is movement that connects with popular culture and music videos and would look as good and at home in a club as on the stage.

“Are You In Your Feelings?” is a meditation on love, set to popular music, by Erykah Badu, Jhené Aiko, Jazmine Sullivan, Kendrick Lamar and others. The songs, complemented by spoken text, are about love and relationships. Both the score and the dance are like a mix tape you might make for a friend: appealing, relaxed, relatable. A group of young people, clad in sporty, fluorescent outfits and brightly lit by Dan Scully, meets, flirts, shares moments of intimacy. A woman (DeVore-Stokes) dances a sexy pas de deux with tall, handsome, James Gilmer—a dancer who knows how to move big, but also how to appear sensitive— but then moves on to someone else. Gilmer too finds a new love interest in Michael Jackson Jr. Much of the partnering is gender-neutral, airy, easy-going.

There is a hint of conflict in the coupling of Ashley Kaylynn Green, a powerhouse, and her sometime partner Chalvar Monteiro. They argue, but in the end, come together once more in a a pas de deux that moves from tension to playfulness to attraction and finally friendship. Like the rest of “Are You In Your Feelings?,” it feels a little pat, a little too easy and pleasing to the eye. At the moment, Abraham’s facility may be his greatest challenge—something to push against.

Solomon-Dumas-Constance Stamatiou and Yazzmeen Laidler in Alvin Ailey's “Revelations.” Photograph by Paul Kolnik

The evening closed with a rousing performance of “Revelations,” in which the young Christopher Taylor, threw himself joyfully into the processional to “Wade in the Water,” “Sinner Man,” and “Rocka My Soul.” He seemed to be truly living. The company is in particularly fine form these days. At a matinee on Saturday, James Gilmer and Jacqueline Harris gave a spectacular, witty performance of “Pas de Duke,” made for Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1976, and set to fast-paced Ellington. They reversed the original height dynamic. Jamison had towered over Baryshnikov; now, Gilmer towers over Harris. Both are unbelievably fast, powerful, through-the body movers. She’s mischievous; he is lyrical and grand.

Michael Jackson Jr in “Reflections In D” by Alvin Ailey. Photograph by Paul Kolnik

The matinee also included a performance of the Ailey solo “Reflections in D,” performed here by Michael Jackson Jr. Jackson with great concentration and a kind of modesty; each movement seemed to reflect a thought and to tap into a deep well of emotion. There was nothing showy. But his quietness only served to emphasize the beauty and simplicity of the dance. It’s not often we get to see this side of Ailey—the quiet, internal poet. We can only hope “Reflections in D” stays in the active repertory for a while.

Marina Harss

Marina Harss is a dance writer in New York, a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the New Yorker Magazine, as well as to Dance Magazine and Fjord Review. She is the author of a book about the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, scheduled for publication by Farrar Straus and Giroux in 2023.



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