It’s late September: the air is crisp, the kids are back at school, and the Fall for Dance festival is ensconced at City Center for two weeks of grab-bag programming at bargain-bin prices. I chose to attend Program 3 of this year’s fest because it featured the live premiere of Jamar Roberts’s “Morani/Mungu (Black Warrior/Black God),” which premiered virtually during the Covid-adapted FFDF of 2020. Arriving 5 months after George Floyd’s death and overtly tackling the struggle to simply exist as a Black person in America, I found this solo incredibly moving at the time. I’ve wanted to see it danced live for two years now. Roberts himself danced the streaming premiere, but he has since retired from performing with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to be the troupe’s resident choreographer. Until just recently, the FFDF casting of this solo was a mystery, and I wondered who would be able to fill Roberts’s giant shoes (well, bare feet). James Gilmer, a rising Ailey star, was eventually tapped for the honor. He did not disappoint. Nor did “Morani/Mungu,” which proved once again to be a knockout, both physically and emotionally.
Jennifer Stahl and Tiit Helimets in Robbins' “In the Night.” Photograph by Erik Tomasson