An American Institution
by Paul J. Youngman
February has been declared Black History Month and as such, it provides the public with ample opportunity to sample inspirational performances from the many artists who share their talents and abilities with us in celebration of incredible strengths, achievements and hope. I was fortunate to score some tickets to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre for their Friday night performance. The company would perform for two nights with one afternoon matinee on Saturday. The show was an inspiration, the dancers possess such spirit, the fire that Mr Ailey lit in the mid fifties still burns brightly through these amazing dancers.
Ailey -Ellington Connection
Most people involved in dance recognize the name Alvin Ailey, or at least should. Many musicians are aware of Ailey’s work due to the tributes that Mr. Ailey and Mr. Ellington collaborated on. The River from 1970 was choreographed by Alvin Ailey with music by Duke Ellington, “Night Creature” a tribute to Ellington from 1974 Ailey Celebrates Ellington. The Ailey dance company blends traditional modern and classical with contemporary. Always staying on the cutting edge of what is considered hip and happening. The dance piece, Love Stories choreographed by Judith Jamison with Robert Battle and Renne Harris, incorporated the music of Stevie Wonder with some street dancing, hip-hop, Capoeira and house dance. A visual treat of spirited movement for the 21st Century.
The program mixed Ellington with Wonder, and traditional gospel to build to a climax that garnered the dance troupe, three standing ovations. Every set of hands in the house, clapping to a joyous, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”
The show started with “Night Creatures” from Ailey Celebrates Ellington (1974 – The year of Duke Ellington’s passing). The program quotes Ellington, “Night creatures, unlike stars, do not come out at night — they come on, each thinking that before the night is out he or she will be the star.”
And that is how each member of the company performed. They came on and put body and soul into their dancing, each vying to come on and shine like a star. The lead dancers were beautiful — striking — shining examples of superior art in motion.
The style of choreography, the choice of music — phenomenal physicality, with swinging, joyful dance, all go together so well in creating a performance of magnificence. If anything could have pushed this performance over the edge, to even greater heights, it would have been the addition of live music.
Originally published: Live Music Report 2007