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February 27, 2014

Ailey Dance Theater…A Quarter-Century After Ailey’s Passing

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Written by: David Smallwood
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Celebrating the life and legacy of choreographer Alvin Ailey and his innovative, inspiring and thrilling work 25 years after his passing, the troupe he founded in 1958 – the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – graces the Auditorium Theatre February 28 – March 9 as part of a 23-city U.S. tour.

Robert Battle returns for his third year as Artistic Director to lead the troupe in four Chicago premieres as well as classic favorites including the company’s signature dance Revelations.  Also highlighting the tour is a special collaboration between Ailey and the great jazz musician/composer Duke Ellington.

As an extra treat for this year’s annual Ailey tour, the Auditorium Theater’s Department of Creative Engagement is using innovative programming to highlight the importance of dance and artistic expression to Chicago students and the community. The Alvin Ailey Chicago Master Class Series allows both students and adults the unique opportunity to learn from some of the most accomplished dancers working today. Classes take place over two weekends, March 1 and 8.

March 1 will feature two free high school classes in hip hop and the “Horton Technique.” March 8 will feature an adult master class in jazz technique and costs $20 per person. All classes are limited to 30 participants. For more information or to sign up, email atru-education@auditoriumtheatre.org or call 312/341-2340.

This Year’s Performance Pieces  

(All photos by Paul Kolnik)

Chroma
ChromaThe Ailey company’s premiere of Wayne McGregor’s Chroma (2006) marks the first time a work by this multi-award-winning British choreographer will appear in the Ailey repertoire.  Set to original music by Joby Talbot and orchestrations by Jack White III of The White Stripes, the layered ballet explores McGregor’s curiosity of a concept freed from whiteness and the drama of the human body.

Originally created for The Royal Ballet, a luminous, minimalist set designed by architect John Pawson uses motifs of inside and outside, entrance and exit, light and shadow, void and plenitude, to create a spatially charged environment explored through the medium of the 10 dancers’ bodies.

LIFT

This propulsive world premiere by in-demand choreographer Aszure Barton, her first commission for Alvin Ailey, accentuates the vitality and physical prowess of the Ailey dancers. Driven by the dancers’ passion, skill and collective power, LIFT (2013) was created over a five-week collaborative process with the entire Company. Battle says, “I’ve known Aszure for many years and have watched her develop a unique voice, with bold choices in her choreography and in her approach.  Her work is physically demanding, detail oriented, visceral, and both abstract and dramatic – a great fit for the Company.”

D-Man in the Waters (Part 1)Bill T. Jones’ New York Dance and Performance Award-winning work, D-Man in the Waters (Part 1), is a true modern dance classic and a celebration of life and the resiliency of the human spirit that embodies loss, hope and triumph. Ailey Dance Theater first performed choreography by Bill T. Jones in 1983 when Alvin Ailey himself invited Jones to create Fever Swamp for the Company.

D-Man

“Alvin Ailey took a strong interest in Bill T. Jones early on in his career and continued to encourage his unique work,” says Battle. “Inspired by one of his dancers who died of AIDS, Demian Acquavella, D-Man was created in 1989, the year that Alvin Ailey and so many others were dying from the disease.  What’s interesting is that the work is really about joy and a celebration of life – an acknowledgment of death, but filled with a sense of transcendence.”

Four Corners

Four CornersFour Corners (2013), the fifth work choreographed for Ailey Dance by renowned choreographer Ronald K. Brown, brings to life the vision of four angels standing on the four corners of the earth holding the four winds.  Set to the music of Carl Hancock Rux, Brown draws inspiration from the lyrics of Rux’s Lamentations, following 11 dancers on a powerful and hope-filled journey of tribulation, devotion and triumph. He is known for his signature blend of modern dance and West African idioms in works that often stimulate deeper examinations of spirituality, community responsibility and liberation.

The River

The River is Alvin Ailey’s acclaimed collaboration with the late musical genius Duke Ellington, choreographed and composed in 1970 for American Ballet Theatre and first performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1980. One of 14 dances Ailey created to Ellington’s music, The River was Ellington’s first symphonic score written specifically for dance.

Combining classical ballet, modern dance and jazz, the suite suggests tumbling rapids and slow currents on its voyage to the great sea, mirroring the journey of life. With Ailey’s mixture of light and fun yet dark and romantic choreography balanced with Ellington’s score, the work is an abstract celebration of birth, life, and rebirth.

Night Creature

Combining modern dance, classical ballet and jazz, Night Creature (1974) is another perfect fusion of Alvin Ailey’s AAADT_Night_Creaturebuoyant choreography and Duke Ellington’s sparkling music. Ellington said that “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.” This large ensemble work is full of such stars — strutting, leaping and slinking across the stage. Night Creature is the definitive Ailey homage to the exuberance of The Duke’s jazz, and remains one of his most popular works.

 

Pas de Duke (1976) was Alvin Ailey’s modern dance translation of a classical pas de deux honoring two of the most renowned dancers in the world, Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov while celebrating the musical genius of Duke Ellington. Pas de Duke was originally presented as part of the festival “Ailey Celebrates Ellington” at Lincoln Center in 1976, commemorating the nation’s bicentennial with America’s two great art forms – modern dance and jazz.

“Created especially for Judith Jamison and Baryshnikov – reigning stars at the time from parallel worlds of dance – Pas de Duke showcases so much of Alvin Ailey’s appreciation and ability to showcase great dancers while combining great dance with great music,” says Battle.

Revelations

Rounding out the program is an Alvin Ailey personal masterpiece that has become a signature American classic. Revelations (1960), a suite of dances that fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul, will be performed at each performance throughout the two-week engagement.

Revelations

Program Schedule and Ticket Information

Week 1

Friday, Feb. 28 – 7:30 p.m.: Chroma; Four Corners; Revelations

Saturday, March 1 – 2 & 8 p.m.: LIFT; D-Man in the Waters (Part 1); Revelations

Sunday, March 2 – 3 p.m.: Chroma; Four Corners; Revelations

Week 2

Wednesday, March 5 – 7:30 p.m.: Night Creature; Pas de Duke; The River; Revelations

Thursday, March 6 – 7:30 p.m.: Chroma; Four Corners; Revelations

Friday, March 7 – 7:30 p.m.: LIFT; D-Man in the Waters (Part 1); Revelations

Saturday, March 8 – 2 p.m: Night Creature; Pas de Duke; The River; Revelations



About the Author

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David Smallwood