The Alvin Ailey America Dance Theater, artistic director Robert Battle, made an auspicious return to what once was their home base: Brooklyn Academy of Music, fondly call BAM by the entire world. AAADT made its debut at BAM in 1956 and began a residency in 1969. The beloved troupe nearly died after a spectacular BAM performance, but, luckily for the dance world, lived to dance another day.
The program I attended was called “Brooklyn Bonds: Modern Masters with Brooklyn Connections” and was three works with three stylistic challenges for these eager-beaver dancers who were masterful throughout.
For some time,I was concerned that the Company had become too show-offy, courting applause with high extensions (both men and women) and in-your-face climaxes. This time, though, each work was given sensitive attention to form and content. Yes, there was one young man who raised his leg almost vertically, but, in the context of that particular work, he appeared to be showing wittily off to his partner, not the spectators.
Dancing Spirit was a gentle ballet choreographed by Ronald K. Brown to a suite of music by Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Radiohead and War.
First one dancer, then two and then the entire cast slowly made their way down a darkly lit diagonal (perfect lighting by Clifton Taylor) dressed in Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya’s white flowing dresses for the women and dark pants and pale shirts for the men. This was a ritualistic journey. The simple movements—walking, tilting, dipping into deep, wide pliés and bending at the waist—were developed into complex combinations all to quiet music of Ellington.
As the music picked up with Marsalis, so did the intensity of the steps as the dancers broke out of the diagonal into small groups, duos and solos. Soft leaps and soft partnering filled the stage. When the yearning saxophone riffs came on the work turned into an almost hypnotic gathering of performers who dipped to the floor, rose and continued, leading to an ending that hinted at the opening moments of the work. There was sadness but not loneliness.
Twyla Tharp contributed Roy’s Joys, named for the music of and associated with Roy Eldridge, the great jazzman trumpeter whose fame was at its zenith in the Forties and Fifties a fact echoed in Santo Loquasto’s evocative costumes and Jennifer Tipton’s excellent night-clubby lighting (re-created by Roya Abab).
Divided into nine sections using as many musical selections from the Eldridge catalog, some sung, but most instrumental, this ballet is one of Tharp’s best-constructed works.
Roy’s Joys hasn’t been performed by the AAADT for a while, but these dancers took to the slouchy walks, sudden bursts of balletic steps, shimmying shoulders and its general “I don’t give a damn” attitude. Of course this attitude only comes from Tharp’s exacting choreography and many hours of rehearsal.
As usual with Tharp, the movements spread swiftly all over the stage. Back there a woman was lifted; in front a trio performed complicated partnering while soloists slinked about. The total effect of Roy’s Joys was at one with the multi-faceted jazz score which had many moods.
Kyle Abraham’s Are You In Your Feelings? closed the program with a bang, featuring some solo turns that were terrific. It opened with a very busy and very sensual duet, the dancers wearing brightly colored puffy duds by Karen Young. The same two dancers also close the work.
Using a combination of spoken word and songs—“Woman to Woman” (Shirley Brown), “That’s How You Feel” (Drake) and, most particularly, “Love” (Kendrick Lamar)—Abraham constructs a vision of romance and loneliness. The women moved only their torsos and arms as they stood in individual spotlights (creative lighting by Dan Scully).
Same-sex couples appeared and disappeared, lost in the surge of dancers moving across the stage. The dancers forming a V formation, all dancing in unison pulled the work into focus as the original couple met again and strolled off arm-in-arm as the curtain fell.
The Company seemed to breeze through these demanding works with style and energy. The standout performances bode well for the troupe’s winter season.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (June 6 – 11, 2023)
Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, in Brooklyn
For tickets, call 718-636-4100 or visit http://www.BAM.org
Running time: two hours including two intermissions