A Review of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Elizabith Costey ‘16/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Jamar Roberts and Linda Celeste Sims in Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Photo Credit: Robert Torres
Jamar Roberts and Linda Celeste Sims in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo Credit: Robert Torres

Bold, dynamic, and soulful, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is back in Boston with a mix of new choreography and old favorites. Adding to its extensive performance history in Boston, this will be the 45th presentation of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater by the Celebrity Series of Boston. And with only four days at the Wang Theater, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is pulling out all the stops.

With so little time, the company got creative with scheduling. Each performance displays different dances of varying styles, musical genres, and choreographers. Throughout the weekend, audiences will enjoy works by Paul Taylor, Ronald K. Brown, Talley Beatty, Rennie Harris, current Artistic Director- Robert Battle, and of course, Alvin Ailey himself.

Opening night boasted the diverse choreography of “Exodus” by Rennie Harris, “No Longer Silent” by Robert Battle, and “Revelations” by Alvin Ailey. These three works are hugely different, and so it seems strange to see them woven together. However, from the moment the curtains rose to the last bows, the audience was spellbound.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' Exodus. Photo Credit: Robert Torres
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris’ Exodus. Photo Credit: Robert Torres

“Exodus” opens on a grim scene as spoken word by Raphael Xavier washes over the audience. The sound of a gun firing echoes through the theater. Dancers, scattered about the floor, lay still as one woman kneels, hunched over another fallen dancer. Spoken word fades away, and beat heavy house music pounds throughout the theater. Although Harris arguably didn’t test the dancers’ physical skill in a traditional way, he certainly tested their endurance, control, and agility. In groups and cannons from every direction dancers come to life in rapid jerkin style footwork. This hip hop style of wild footwork and sharp, aggressive isolations jolts through the entire piece, until it ends similarly to how it began- with a gunshot. The audience cheers before the curtains even touch down.

As the minutes of the first intermission tick by, the audience waits eagerly for Alvin Ailey’s next episode, Robert Battle’s “No Longer Silent”. Luckily, the wait is brief. The lights dim, and the volcanic sounds of Erwin Schulhoff’s “Ogelala” beckon the audience’s attention. The curtains rise only to reveal a dimly lit, nearly empty stage. Suddenly, dancers dressed in black suits with white squares painted on their knees, march rapidly onto the stage in precise lines, forming continually changing groups across the stage. Battle’s piece is a ritualistic combination of sharp angles and precision. If anything “No Longer Silent” feels strikingly akin to Vaslav Najinsky’s infamous ballet “The Rite of Spring” composed by Igor Stravinsky. It is an aggressive staccato of movement. As “Ogelala” intensifies, so do the dancers’ movements.

Complementing and heightening the performance, the lighting is simple, but poignant. Leaving much of the stage in shadow, spotlights focused on the dancers, highlighting crucial moments. In one especially engrossing scene, dancers race into a compact line, pressing together with one arm raised. The stage goes dark; the only remaining light highlights the dancers’ motionless faces which are separated only by their black sleeves. The power of the stillness leaves the audience awestruck until dancers finally shift and begin to move off stage.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Photo Credit: Robert Torres.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo Credit: Robert Torres.

After a short intermission, the rich, heart aching melody of “Pilgrim of Sorrow” drift through the air, and the curtains rise for the last performance of the evening, “Revelations” by Alvin Ailey. Put simply, there is nothing like Ailey’s choreography. From start to finish the soulful sounds of gospel grip the audience, while dancers float through the piece is a way this is undeniably unbelievable. In the first piece alone, the dancers’ arms appear almost as wings- long and powerful and reaching. Each dancer reaches not just ‘with their arm’, but with every muscle in their back, their shoulders, their forearm, their fingertips. The effect is stunning.

Ailey’s choreography pushes the dancers to their limits, requiring remarkable technique, strength, flexibility, and style. Yet, the dancers make it look almost easy. Perhaps the most rigorous and beautiful scene is the duet between Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts in “Fix Me, Jesus”. Sims and Roberts mesmerize their audience with astounding control and balance. Lifting her leg high in slow, delicate battements, Sims holds each one before falling sideways. Each time she falls, Sims is caught by Roberts and returned to the held battement. Left alone momentarily, Sims executes a promenade- her leg still held solidly in the air. With strength and dignity, Sims and Roberts glide through each movement together until the final motion. Roberts takes a wide second plié and lifts Sims onto his right leg. Gently, Sims lifts her leg into a stunning arabesque and then remains motionless as the music ends, and the lights go out.

This is merely ONE of The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s performances this weekend. For tickets and more information about showings and show times, visit

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