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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Review: Mortality-Defying Movement

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations By Courtesy of Paul Kolnik
By Stella A. Gilbert, Crimson Staff Writer

It’s easy to forget that the Alvin Ailey dancers are mortal. Sometimes they emulate birds or flowers, but more often they embody immaterial things like joy, strength, or fragility. Occasionally, though, when the music echoing through the theater quiets to just the right level, you can hear the muted thud of bare feet on the padded stage or the sharp intake of breath from an athlete pushing themselves to their limit. That’s when it dawns on you — these dancers are somehow mortal beings, just like us.

From May 2 to 5, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) is holding their five-show run at the Boch Center Wang Theatre as a part of the Celebrity Series of Boston, which has hosted the company nearly annually for over 50 years. The opening night performance included the area premieres of Amy Hall Garner’s “Century” (2023) and Jamar Roberts’s “Ode” (2019), as well as the beloved Alvin Ailey classic, “Revelations” (1960).

“Century” was spirited and resilient, with feathered pink costumes, a sparkling gold backdrop lit by warm spotlights, and lively jazz music accompanying the dancers. The act celebrated the 100th birthday of Garner’s grandfather, and this radiant spirit persisted throughout the piece.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Chalvar Monteiro and Jacquelin Harris in Amy Hall Garner's CENTURY
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Chalvar Monteiro and Jacquelin Harris in Amy Hall Garner's CENTURY By Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

The consistently clean and well-timed turns and jumps demonstrated the dancers’ resounding technique. However, “Century”’s collective stage presence was the true highlight of the piece. Even in moments when only one dancer was left on stage, he captivated the audience with his strength and humor, seemingly basking in the artificial sunlight of the spotlights. His facial expressions and body language filled the theater with a charming personality that evoked delighted laughter from the audience.

The standout moment of the act was marked by a voice recording of Garner’s grandfather and a solo dancer’s responding performance, which was rife with contrasts — subdued energy and then sharp movements, slow piano and then rapid accelerando. The intermission soon after offered a much-needed rest.

The second act, “Ode,” served as a reminder that good art can evoke synesthesia. While the dancers were onstage, the audience could see music, hear emotion, and feel color. Storytelling was paramount to this piece, as the act unfurled to tell a tender tale of beauty and togetherness interrupted by pain and isolation in a “time of growing gun violence,” according to the piece description.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jamar Roberts' Ode
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jamar Roberts' Ode By Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Clashing piano chords echoed through the theater as the all-female cast performed awkward yet graceful, disjointed yet synchronized movements in front of an elegantly fragile floral backdrop. This dissonance lasted so long that it washed over the audience, making it easy to forget what joy and harmony could look and sound like given the absence of both. When it finally ended, the silence was deafening.

“Revelations,” as previously reported by The Crimson, can only be sufficiently described as ethereal. The iconic act, choreographed by Ailey himself as tribute to his African American heritage, demonstrated the strength of restraint.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's James Gilmer in Alvin Ailey's Revelations
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's James Gilmer in Alvin Ailey's Revelations By Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

During the song “I’ve Been ’Buked,” while the dancers could have merely moved their arms in simple ranges of motion, they instead sped up and halted for milliseconds at a time, giving the impression that each moment on stage was a painstakingly handcrafted sculpture, unique to the mere instant that they appeared.

Throughout “Sinner Man,” every jump was just a few inches higher than expected, every arm outstretched further, every turn made faster. “You May Run On” revealed that the simple wave of a fan or wag of a finger can carry tremendous personality when performed by exceptional artists.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations By Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Yet again, AAADT proved that their capacity to enrapture audiences hasn’t diminished in their 65 years of existence. Rather, the company grows only more impressive, earning standing ovations across cities and generations — and defying expectations for what can be accomplished by mere mortals.

—Staff writer Stella A. Gilbert can be reached at stella.gilbert@thecrimson.com.

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