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Ailey II at Williams College

Residence and Performance

By: Charles Giuliano - 09/18/2013

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Founder Alvin Ailey and his partner Judith Jamison.
Founder Alvin Ailey and his partner Judith Jamison.
Jamison in Revelation.
Jamison in Revelation.
Ailey II
Ailey II
New young dancers hoist the umbrella.
New young dancers hoist the umbrella.
Refreshing and updating Revelations.
Refreshing and updating Revelations.

Ailey II
’62 Center
Williams College
September 17, 2013
Artistic Director, Troy Powell
Artistic Director Emerita, Sylvia Waters
Company Members: Riccardo Battaglia, Shay Bland, Aubree Brown, Tyler Brown, David Adrian Freeland, Jr., Gentry George, Jacqueline Harris, Daphne Lee, Olivier Medus, Danica Paulos, Edward Spots, Jamal White.

Streams (1970)
Choreography, Alvin Ailey
Music, Miroslav Kabelac “Eight Inventions, Opus 45”
Costume Design, A. Christina Giannini
Lighting Design, Chenault Spence

Virtues (2012)
Choreography, Amy Hall Garner
Music, Karl Jenkins
Costume Design, George Hudacko
Lighting Design, Al Crawford

Revelations (1960)
Choreography, Alvin Ailey
Music, Traditional
Décor and Costumes, Ves Harper
Costumes for “Rocka My Soul” redesigned by Barbara Forbes
Lighting, Nicola Cernovitch

As a part of its residence at Williams College, last night at the ‘62 Center, Ailey II the junior division of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, gave a three part, two hour performance.

The program was well balanced between works choreographed by Ailey- Streams (1970) and the iconic Revelations (1960) as well as a recent work Virtues (2012) choreographed by Amy Hall Garner which is very much in the manner of the renowned African American dance company.

Alvin Ailey (January 5, 1931 - December 1, 1989) was a pioneer in the field of putting soul into contemporary dance while adhering to classical traditions, movement and training.

The Ailey style of movement with hip thrusts, reaching,  shoulder and neck movments as well as spectacular lifts and leaps was richly evident in the first work Streams. Unlike the other two works in the program there was not apparent narrative interpretation in a dance set to varying aspects of percussion from thundering and cacophonous to soft and shimmering. The music seemed comprised of a number of percussion instruments from a traditional jazz kit of snare, bass, tom toms and cymbals as well as hand drums, marimba and gongs. The variations of the music inspired aspects from the full company to solos and passages pas de trios. The precision and discipline of the company was evidenced by the chiseled bare torsos of the male dancers and the fluid complex, wrenching forms of the women. The dance established an Ailey vocabulary which resonated through the other works with variations.

There was a joyous feeling to Virtues. The women appeared in white skirted costumes set to an Afro Cuban beat. It evoked a community celebration perhaps a picnic or country dance. There were playful aspects of flirting and seduction. That sensuality translated into the responses of the audience particular women to the spectacular male dancers.

How wonderful for a young audience to experience the classic, paradigmatic Ailey creation Revelations. It is a most literal confluence of African American music and dance traditions from spirituals to spring.

In 1960, when it was introduced it put the dance world on notice raising the bar with many new challenges. So much has changed since then that the piece seems entirely natural in the context of contemporary dance. That said is has aged beautifully.

Today a new young dancer has stepped into the role of the iconic Judith Jamison. The famous large white umbrella and flowing gown has been given a fresh interpretation. How wonderful that the dance has not been retired. Particularly as it is being seen by a generation that never knew Ailey and Jamison.

The magic of that magnificent dance still lives and breathes. That simple design of rippling cloth to simulate immersion in water works as well today as it did in 1960.

With the finale “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” the audience was on its feet yelling for more. The company responded with another round of “Rocka My Soul” followed by curtain calls that went on and on.

Particularly with so many young people in the audience it is an evening and performance that will linger forever. It was thrilling to share that experience.

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