Dallas — When asked how the company keeps the legacy of its founder, legendary modern choreographer Alvin Ailey, alive, Matthew Rushing, the recently appointed Associate Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, says, “We are trying to continue what Mr. Ailey started by creating works that celebrate the African American tradition and modern dance and also move it forward, making sure that our current works are speaking to what is going on today.”
The company will make good on that promise when they return to Dallas March 13-14 as part of the TITAS/Dance Unbound 2019-2020 season. Alvin Ailey dancers will perform two programs, one for the Friday and Saturday evening shows and another for the Saturday matinee. Along with Revelations, Ailey’s most enduring and iconic choreographic legacy, the company will bring to the stage five works inspired by real-life situations and social issues, created by five of the most inspiring choreographers at work today. Rushing noted, “The works speak to a lot of the things going on today, socially. Some of the works speak to the history and tradition of the company.”
The company will perform Ode, a piece choreographed by newly appointed Alvin Ailey resident choreographer and company member Jamar Roberts. Roberts created the work as a response to rising gun violence in the United States — in particular, noted Rushing, the way that “gun violence has affected African American men.” But rather than creating a work built on anger or devastation—emotions that we might expect from a dance about gun violence — Rushing explained that Roberts “wanted to use beauty as a healing source for something that is so sensitive.” In fact, “He wanted to create a work that is a ‘flower on the graves’ of those that have been affected and their families.” In that sense, Ode follows “a very unexpected road and approach to creating a work about such a sensitive topic,” continued Rushing.
Also on the evening program is EN, a 2018 work created for the company by choreographer Jessica Lang. EN was especially important to Lang both personally and professionally. It was both her first piece for the Alvin Ailey company and the 100th ballet of her choreographic career as a whole. Lang chose to mark the occasion by celebrating the intimacy that characterizes her relationship to the company — she attended Julliard with Artistic Director Robert Battle, is married to company member Kanji Segawa, and maintains close friendships with several other members. “En” is a Japanese word that has many meanings, among them “circle” and “fate,” and the ballet is inspired by the life’s “full circle” that bringing individuals into contact with each other through different life stages.
At the Saturday matinee, the company will perform BUSK, a piece by Aszure Barton. BUSKjoins Ode as a response to a pressing contemporary social issue. “In a trip to Santa Barbara,” explained Rushing, “[Barton] was really taken by the idea of how close poverty and wealth live together. One the one side of the street there were homeless people and on the other side of the street there were millionaires.” BUSK sheds light on this reality with a haunting score by Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin.
Works by explosive choreographer Camille A. Brown and Ailey artistic director emerita, Judith Jamison, will also be on the matinee program.
All three performances will conclude with Revelations, Ailey’s homage to African American music and culture, originally created for the company in 1960. Revelations, a celebration of blues, gospel, and soul music, continues to be one of the most popular works of dance in the world today. When asked how the company keeps their most-performed work fresh, Rushing says that bringing in new dancers over the years and watching seasoned dancers evolve as performers brings one level of freshness to the work. But, he added, “One of the beautiful things about live theater is that you are operating in the moment, and each moment is fresh. If you are open to embracing spontaneity…there’s an immediate newness that comes with the performance.”
Revelations, which shows the highs and lows of the African American experience and the full range of everyday, human emotion, is the best reminder of Alvin Ailey’s original goal for his company. “Dance literally came from the people, from tradition, from culture,” says Rushing, and Ailey believed that it was critical for the company to demonstrate that dance can be both a high art form and non-elitist one. “I’ve always says that Ailey is the company where you can bring your uncle who’d rather be at a baseball game. We try not to make it an elitist art form, but we also believe in keeping the integrity [of modern dance] and making it a high art. High art doesn’t have to be elitist. It can be accessible.”