It’s only a short snippet that recalls the time when Alvin Ailey’s Cry seemed to be a dance made just for Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s first superstar, Judith Jamison. From late mid-Century archival footage, her ever so long arms reach up, up, up and out across time to clear cobwebs of memories. Cry was Ailey’s tribute to his mother and Black women everywhere, who rise resilient beyond slavery, servitude and oppression.
Just as Jamison completes a turn, and as we ready again for her trademark long elegant reach, we instead see another dancer, Constance Stamatiou. She too—the latest in the long line of lead dancers who have performed this from slave-to-servant-to-ghetto solo since 1972—seems to wrap us in the ample folds of her long billowing white skirt to tell the story.
As a talking head, Jamison herself emerges from more archival footage to comment that it’s not so much who dances this choreography, to paraphrase, but that it is a work of art that must be danced.
This performance of Cry is sandwiched between the opener world premiere of Ailey dancer and Resident Choreographer Jamar Roberts’ Holding Space, and arguably the troupe’s most famous work of all, Revelations.
Of course this performance would end with Revelations! Here too, we flip back and forth from then footage to now. We follow the dancers through greenery, perhaps on the Underground Railroad, and in reality on a patch of Bronx’s Botanical Gardens and later its Wave Hill mansion. Soon the oldie tapes start to weave in. Archival and grainy black and white footage of three male dancers running to Sinner Man especially reminds us that this choreography was born in another time. Then, in a blink, the world becomes technicolor with golden clad church ladies donning big hats and expressive fans to bring the saving grace of the sermon alive.
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Was the Holding Space opener a first look at what will soon be another Ailey repertoire staple? Seemingly tailored for camera and live stage performance alike, it opens with three lines of dancers backlit by bluish hazy light that reveals the diaphanous costumes and seems to encase each dancer in an air pillow layer. They move not as a synched corps de ballet, but rather, each dancer creates an energy vortex in their own space. Angles – seemingly impossible angles – are everywhere, from legs, arms and bent torsos. We feel struggle and pain — a visualization of internal frenzy.
The music morphs from sounding like a tin harpsichord or electric toy piano to an electronica soundscape and then to what could be imagined as a new Chopin etude. From the studied cacophony opener, soloists then perform in an impromptu constructed cube. If we are seeing a sacred healing space, as the promotional materials billed it, it is anything but a gentle massage. Think instead of a body finding a corner, or rather a cube, to let the violence flow out of their body. This writer muses that each dancer is showing us just how much energy it takes to detox from racism’s vile energy.
These three classics—old and newborn—will especially appeal to seasoned Alvin Ailey Dance Theater devotees. Newcomers to the Ailey world will likely find much to enjoy as well, thanks in large part to the expert cinematography and film editing.
Read more dance reviews by dancers in the Picture This Post Round-Up, “Choreographers’ Eyes - Dancers Explain Dance”. Watch this video preview of the story here —
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Robert Battle, artistic director
Matthew Rushing, associate artistic director
Thru September 8, 2021
On Demand Streaming via Cal Performances at Home
$15+ (Discounts for Students)
Tickets are available at the Cal Performances at Home website or by phone at (510) 642-9988.
Slider images: Ailey company dancers on set filming Jamar Roberts' Holding Space (World Premiere) by Brandon Stirling Baker; Ailey company dancers on set filming Jamar Roberts' Holding Space (World Premiere) by Brandon Stirling Baker
Image credits per above and courtesy of Cal Performances at Home
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.