Dallas — The most well-known and widely seen modern dance company in the world returned to Dallas after four years for an eclectic and unforgettable show. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by TITAS at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House inevitably draws a sold-out house, and this time was no exception.
The evening shows had a different program than the matinee (with only two common pieces), and the repertory choices revealed an intriguing international flair.
Opening the performance was Deep by Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti, set to the music of French-Cuban duo Ibeyi. The music fused elements from the sisters’ Nigerian heritage and their Cuban birthplace but with a distinctly pop feel that still floats under the mainstream radar.
Three women in black and mesh softly moved in perfect synchronization to lingering piano notes to start the dance. The music underwent a few changes but the dancers’ soft quality continued with such ease that more virtuosic movements came as a pleasant surprise. Men entered to form duets, and the underlying theme appeared: dominance or superiority in relationships.
Most of the partnering in this first part consisted of the men manipulating the women, either physically or energetically, as if the ladies were under their spell. The movements pulled equally from differing styles of contemporary, modern, and ballet, that it was difficult to tell what the main influence was, although it tended toward the technical side. Choreography easily followed the musical structure in a delicious and satisfying manner yet avoided being lyrically literal.
Gestural phrases appeared, reminiscent of voguing, and the ladies began to show more dominance as the vibe switched to Afro-Caribbean. Amazing unison work mixed with continued duets and a few stunning male solos. The relationships changed again, as this time the partnership appeared more equally balanced with softer duets, and the dance ended with a solid display of unity and release.
After an intermission, Walking Mad brought a European modern dance influence to the American dance giant, as longtime Nederlands Dans Theater member Johan Inger threw the audience into a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions with his creation.
As the lights faded to signal the end of intermission, a man in a hat wandered from the audience towards the stage, taking in the scene around him. The curtain rose with his gesture revealing a large fence-like structure in the background, and Maurice Ravel’s Boléro started its slow ascent.
Throughout the piece, the fence moved, folding in on itself, collapsing to form a stage, and parts opened like doors. Inger’s intention in using the fence to illustrate the types of barriers we form between us and others was heightened by the many reactions the dancers had towards each other. Some were welcoming, some persistent, while others were hidden.
The work’s vocabulary put it outside the realm of what one might normally expect from the Ailey company, but its theatricality fit right in with the talents of the group. Quirky, gangly positions fit naturally with the classical music yet created a slight air of dissonance. Dancers in colorful shirts and party hats executed playful movement with such ease, they made it look like that’s what the music dictated.
The celebratory atmosphere halted with an abrupt drop in the music volume, only barely noticeable when one strained to listen, and we glimpsed a woman left outside the fun. Whether it’s by her own doing or the others we could not tell, but the interaction between her and the one trying to reach out was poignant.
When the volume returned to normal, dancers climbed over the fence, and cam back to larger, awkward movements. Athletic, expansive, and floppy at times, their maneuvers sent the climax of Boléro soaring. The end of the song signaled the beginning of the somber ending, using Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina for a more technical duet, desperate yet cathartic.
After a second intermission, Jacqueline Green and Yannick Lebrun delivered Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain Pas de Deux. It’s a lovely work in and of itself, and although the dancers didn’t have the wispy quality others have given it, they still looked lovely. After the exhilaration of the other two works, however, it seemed dull, especially given the frequency with which this piece is performed and the ubiquitous use of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel Im Spiegel.
Because everyone really comes to see Revelations, the show’s closer.
It’s a wonderful exercise in preference and non-attachment, proving dance’s ephemeral nature and the joy of live art. Most dancers in the audience have likely seen the 1980s recording of the company’s iconic work more times than they can count, and that interpretation of the choreography is etched in the minds of the dance community.
But each time it’s performed, the audience gets an interesting taste of individuality. From the different body types that perform it to the way the dancers melt into the signature pose from “I Been ‘Buked,” it’s an opportunity to enjoy the expression of each dancer in that moment, rather than say, “Well, I didn’t like the way they fluttered their hands in ‘Fix Me Jesus’.”
Joyous and thrilling, there’s a reason the work has stood the test of time and will remain a favorite for generations to come.