Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Alvin Ailey: American Dance Theatre

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre returned to Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for ten performances of their mixed repertoire.  Founded by Alvin Ailey in 1958, this ballet company has grown into one of the largest American dance companies and the most lauded of African-American dance companies.  It is estimated that since it's conception, the company has reached 23 million audience members in 48 states and 71 countries.  Needless to say, this company is the most-toured dance company from the United States, and they represent us well.

With Artistic Director Judith Jamison, the company has soared.  And Friday April 15th's performance was no different as they presented "Program B" which included: "Memoria (1979)," "Three Black Kings (1976)," "Cry (1971)," and "Revelations (1960)."  Of these pieces, the ones that stood out the most to me were "Three Black Kings (1976)" and "Revelations (1960)."

"Three Black Kings (1976)" contains three movements about three kings that have affected the black race. The first movement is dedicated to King Balthazar (the black king present at the nativity), followed by King Solomon, and Martin Luther King.  The music comes from Duke Ellington's final work and so continues the African-American spirit in the piece.

"Revelations (1960)" is Ailey's most well-known and most lauded piece.  In fact, the word masterpiece is not overstating the power and emotions that this mini-ballet contains.  There are three sections, and each contains three movements.  Some stand out pieces are "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" from the first section, "Pilgrim of Sorrow," "Wade In The Water" from the second section, "Take Me To The Water," and "I Wanna Be Ready," also from the second section.

My personal favorite piece is "I Wanna Be Ready" as it is a solo for a man in pure white clothing.  The anguish that he feels is so visceral that we see it not in just his emotion, but through the choreography.  And all it is, is just him alone in the middle of the stage, in a pool of light.  Brilliant.  (See link below to see a video).

These pieces in particular were especially riveting.  Since "Revelations (1960)" uses all Gospel music, the pieces already feel quintessentially African-American.  And then, with the progression of the movements, we see the story of the African-American play out.  Ailey's movements are considered modern dance, but they have a unique way of not only embodying the spirit of the piece, but of a people and of a culture.

Revelations is also celebrating an anniversary.  It was first created in 1960 and (as of 2010) is celebrating it's 50th year.  So, to commemorate this, there was a presentation of a five minute film about the conception of the masterpiece, with Ailey himself (prior to his death in 1989) discussing his inspirations, his muse, and his past.

Considered a "Cultural Ambassador to the World," The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Company will continue to inspire and perpetuate a new appreciation of this completely American art form and company.

Check out CBS's story on their 50th Anniversary here:

Check out my favorite piece from "Revelations (1960)," "I Wanna Be Ready" here:

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