Program C of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s run at the Auditorium Theatre featured five pieces, each transfixing the audience with both their technical mastery and emotional depth.
The experience of being an audience member for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is different than at most theatre performances. The audience is widely diverse and there is an undeniable excitement in the air. We don’t hold back cheers, gasps, and even tears when a piece affects us. There is a wonderful sense of community in the theater, bringing people of all backgrounds together to experience this magnificent performance.
“Every day I walk past someone who lives on the street. People who lives in houses say they are crazy and dangerous. I see myself in them.”
This spoken text is how Jawole Willa Jo Zolla’s piece Shelter begins. Performed by six female dancers, Shelter evokes the struggle of impoverished and homeless people.
The dancers faces express despair, anger, frustration, and weariness, never knowing when they will be able to breathe easy again. They use African-based movements--very quick and low to the ground. They huddle together, collapsing onto each other and working to lift each other back up again.
We feel strong emotions through their movement – pure and raw.
This piece, choreographed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar of the company Urban Bush Women and . set to a score incorporating poetry by Hattie Gossett and Laurie Carlos, is different in tone and structure than the rest of the pieces performed by Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Here we are drawn into its story, in addition to marveling at the dancers technique.
Moving in Perfect Precision
Two pieces by Artistic Director Robert Battle were also performed in Program C, Mass, choreographed in 2004, and The Hunt, first created in 2001. Battle’s choreography highlights the dancers immense technical abilities and wows us with their ability to move together seamlessly as a group.
In Mass, the dancers move together in unison in one large group, like a school of fish or a flock of birds, occasionally breaking off into smaller groups or individually.
We sense a communal feeling that seems almost ritualistic and religious, as if the dancers are monks living together in a monastery. Each dancer is an important part of the community that Battle creates.
The Hunt is more intense and powerful in both the dancers’ movements and the tone of the piece as a whole. Six male dancers perform strong and sharp movements in long black skirts with warrior-like strength and precision.
The program also featured two pieces choreographed by Alvin Ailey himself, returning the company to its roots.
Cry, is an emotional solo portraying the hardships and struggles faced by black women. The program provides the note, “For all Black women everywhere–especially our mothers.” The dancer begins moving slowly and solemnly with a white cloth as a prop. As the piece progresses, she becomes more free in her movements, overcoming her hardships with a lightness appearing on her face. By the end, the dancer is dancing joyfully all around the stage in total release. Choreographed in 1971 and performed by Linda Celeste Sims, Ailey originally choreographed the piece in honor of his own mother, telling the world her story.
The performance ends with Ailey’s signature and most widely known piece, Revelations.
The imagery of Revelations is striking and powerful; audible gasps and “wows” are heard throughout the auditorium as the dancers come together to hit a certain pose. The dancers’ incredible technique, their precision in hitting a certain move right in time with the music in combination with breathtaking extensions and high leaps enhance the performance without taking away from the message of Revelations.
Revelations is split into three sections; "Pilgrim of Sorrow," "Take Me to the Water," and "Move, Members, Move." Each consists of three to four short dances that pay homage to the cultural heritage of African Americans.
“Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” the final piece in Revelations, is a joyous moment for both the dancers, smiling up on stage and the audience clapping along in their seats. This is the most powerful part of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s performance; their ability to relate to the audience and bring us all together as a community.
Now playing through March 11
Saturday March 10 at 8pm and Sunday March 11 at 3pm
The Auditorium Theatre
50 E Congress Pkwy
Chicago, IL 60605
About the Author:
Hayley Ross graduated from Ohio University in 2016 with degrees in Dance and Journalism. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Hayley began dancing at the age of four. She has studied Ballet, Pointe, Modern, Jazz, Contemporary, and African dance and regularly can be found taking dance and Pilates at Chicago's Lou Conte Dance Studio. Hayley has completed internships at CityScene Media Group, OhioDance, the Chautauqua Institution, and American Dance Festival. She currently works in the Marketing department at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as the Communication Coordinator. Learn more about Hayley at hayleyross.weebly.com