When the lights went up on Tuesday night at the end of the Alvin Ailey American Dance company’s Theater’s performance, the Mondavi Ccenter for the Performing Arts practically shook as the crowd erupted into a standing ovation accompanied by whoops and cheers. The diverse crowd of every race and ethnicity, with attendees young and old, dressed to the nines or in the clothes they wore to class, and of every race and ethnicity, all shared the same huge smile and the same goosebumps on their arms after the exhilarating two and a half-hour performance.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance TheatreTheater, a modern dance company based in New York and a major African -American performance group, presented as much energy and passion as its audience’s response during the Davis stop on its national tour.
The company, which was founded by choreographer Alvin Ailey in 1958 and has since gone on to become globally renowned, featured an amazing range of emotions, and an even more amazing range of talent, while showcasing a repertoire featuring dances, both new and old.
The performance began with a sexy bang with “Night Creature,” choreographed by Ailey himself in 1974. The dancers shimmered as they slinked in their costumes, and the sultry jazz music accompanying every hip sway and seductive twist of the arm seemed to transport the audience back to 1920’s Harlem, New York. The dancers transformed themselves into coquettish “creatures,” even getting laughs from the audience as they both flirted and rejected each other. The combination of the choreography, music and perfect attitude of the dancers made the piece a great opener that was sexy, sassy and fun to watch.
The second piece of the night, “The Evolution of a Secured Feminine,” choreographed by Camille A. Brown, kept the upbeat theme going. A soloist dancer, Briana Reed, played a character whose costume was half a man’s suit and half a woman’s bra. She began her dance without any musical accompaniment, only her grunts and the sounds of her feet slamming the stage giving any noise to the auditorium. Her body and performance was so powerful, I had to double-check the program to see if the dancer was male or female. And yet, as the music switched to songs by Ella Fitzgerald and Nancy Wilson, she was able to embody perfectly the seductive and flirtatious female and, keep the audience laughing with her fun attitude as she played her changing role with perfection.
After intermission, the tone of the show completely changed. The fun and flirtatious pieces were replaced with two extremely powerful and serious performances that kept the audience gasping with wonder at the showcase of talent onstage.
The third performance, “Vespers,” was an all-female dance. Clad in serious black dresses and dancing with chairs, the women dancers’ true strength and talent shined. “The Hunt,” the all-male dance that followed, was also full of power, with the men performing amazing flips and stunts as they danced across the stage to music accompanied by heavy drums and chanting.
Perhaps the most exciting performance of the night, though, was the performance of the company’s classic dance called “Revelations,” another dance choreographed by Ailey in 1960. The 30-minute piece, the longest of the show, represents Ailey’s own religious experiences as a child growing up in Texas.
The dance, broken up into three sections, was by far one of the most haunting and inspiring of the show. The beginning, dubbed “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” featured an astonishing moment in which all company dancers shared the stage, their hands raised in the air, as gospel music rang above them. The powerful piece was followed by the brighter “Take Me to the Water,” a dance that represents baptism, and the show ended with a glorious, thumping dance known as “Move, Members, Move.”
One did not need to be religious to be moved by “Revelations.” The performance was powerful in the passion contained in the dancers. Their talent and their love of what they were doing shined clear as their limbs seemed to become one with the traditional gospel music playing around them.
Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theatre was, in short, truly inspiring. Groundbreaking in the 1960’s for showcasing the talent, creativity and experiences of African-Americans, the cCompany proved that they are still every bit as passionate and amazing today. Tuesday night was the first performance of the cCompany that I had seen, and I can assure you it definitely won’t be my last.
ANNETA KONSTANTINIDES can be reached at email@example.com.