Program A of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s run at the Auditorium Theatre featured two powerful works that explored racism throughout history, and how it still affects us today.
Hip-Hop Meets Storytelling
Rennie Harris’ 2018 work Lazarus begins with a striking scene. Lights flash and a limp man is being held up center stage, as if he has just been shot. The man slides to the ground, the sounds of gunshots, screams, and deep breaths fill the stage. The scene is familiar to us, we’ve seen it on the news, in history books, and even in this year’s Oscar award-winning films. Through use of music and sound, costumes, and movement Lazarus takes the audience through time, showing us that while it may comes in different forms, racism still exists today.
Act 1 of Lazarus is filled with sorrow. The dancers act out scenes of slaves harvesting crops, dancers on the tips of their toes swaying back and forth as if they’d been lynched, and movement that keeps them close to the ground; crawling, falling and rolling on the ground, struggling to stand up. The dancers change costume, becoming closer and closer to modern day clothing as the piece goes on, but the heaviness and sorrow behind the movement remain.
Act 2 brings a different energy entirely. It is joyous and light. Rennie Harris’ hip-hop background comes out in full force with intricate footwork that propels the dancers across stage and stuns the audience. Not unlike the bible story of Lazarus, in which Jesus restores Lazarus to life four days after his death or the story of Jesus’ death, the lyrics to the music in Act 2 proclaim “He is Risen” and “I’m feeling good.” The story shifts from one of sorrow, to one of hopefulness for the future.
The piece ends with a powerful monologue by Alvin Ailey himself. He describes how black people are made to believe they can only do certain things, another reminder of the road towards equality that still must be forged. The piece ends with a silhouette of a man on the backdrop, “Mr. Ailey,” the voice recording says, and the lights go black.
Lazarus follows a similar narrative arc as Alvin Ailey’s signature crowd favorite Revelations, which ends the evening. The three sections; Pilgrim of Sorrow, Take Me to the Water, and Move, Members, Move show the struggle African Americans face beginning with sorrowful sections “I’ve been Buked” and “Fix Me, Jesus” to a joyful ending with “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”
Revelations shows off the Ailey dancers incredible technique, hitting every moment of Alvin Ailey’s classic modern moves with control and precision. Sarah Daley-Perdomo’s control as she moved beautifully through each leg extension and promenade in “Fix Me, Jesus” had this reviewer on the edge of her seat the entire time. Each dancer featured in Revelations proves why Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is regarded as one of the best dance companies working today.
One of the most exciting parts about watching Revelations is the connection the audience has with the piece. By the end of “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” the audience is on their feet clapping and singing along. It is a true “feel-good” moment that each year brings the dance community closer together.
Lazarus and Revelations are powerful statements about our world today, showing us where we have been and where we still need to go. It’s works of art like these that give us everything: an appreciation of the talent of the artists on stage, entertainment that has us out of our seats dancing along, and a compelling message to carry home with us.
Ricardo Battaglia, Hope Boykin, Jeroboam Bozeman, Clifton Brown, Khalia Campbell, Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Ghrai DeVore, Solomon Dumas, Samantha Figgins, Vernard J. Gilmore, Jacqueline Green, Daniel Harder, Jacquelin Harris, Michael Jackson, Jr., Megan Jakel, Yazzmeen Laidler, Yannick Lebrun, Michael Francis McBride, Rachael McLaren, Chalvar Monteiro, Akua Noni Parker, Danica Paulos, Belen Pereyra-Alem, Jessica Amber Pinkett, Jamar Roberts, Samuel Lee Roberts, Kanji Segawa, Glenn Allen Sims, Linda Celeste Sims, Courtney Celeste Spears, Constance Stamatiou, Jermaine Terry, Fana Tesfagiorgis, Christopher R. Wilson
Now playing through March 10
Thursday March 7 and Friday March 8 at 7:30pm, Saturday March 9 at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday March 10 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 Marketing Manager. Learn more about Hayley at hayleyross.weebly.com