The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was electric with a distinguished mix of culturally diverse activists, artists, leaders, celebrities, and dance lovers of all ages.  How fortunate we are to have, Gloria Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center, providing an opportunity for a new generation of dreamers to discovery the legends of our past and explore the emerging heroes of our future.

There’s a reason Alvin Ailey’s American masterpiece, Revelations “has been seen by more audiences around the world than any other modern work.”  Since 1960, the iconic Ailey piece has conquered racial divides and motivated spiritual reverence, both informing and inspiring audiences.

His timeless work continues to entice dancers and choreographers, daring them to challenge the limits of what an audience should expect.  I’ve seen Revelations well over fifteen times, and I can honestly say that the incredibly executed, emotionally charged choreography still moves me to tears.  By the end, I’m left standing in the packed audience, grinning ear-to-ear as we clap along with the performers onstage.

That––is a well told story.

Sixty years after the company’s inception, (YES, 60 YEARS!) and fifty-nine years since the debut of, Revelations––the signature work still shines.

When the curtain opens revealing a pyramid of dancers reaching toward the sky, before dramatically and deeply melting into the stage via a pile that would make any ballet teacher proud, I’m instantly sucked into the dynamic landscape in which Mr. Ailey crafted. Whether isolating, hinging, contracting, pirouetting, or soaring through the air, the athletic and graceful dancers perform a beautifully arranged, emotionally connected, and deeply rooted visual history book of the African-American plight. More directly, the “blood memories” of Mr. Ailey.  As Artistic Director, Robert Battle so passionately shares, “Alvin Ailey forever changed the American landscape by raising up the lives and cultural heritage of African Americans for all to see, opening the hearts and minds of people of every background and elevating the world of the performing arts.”

Battle’s praise of Alvin Ailey through words is substantiated in his dedication to continuing the Ailey legacy, curating a platform for rising voices to share their truths and ignite conversation.  Although I will say, it would have been nice to see a piece from Mr. Battle on the program, too.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, REVELATIONS, I Been 'Buked The Company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ailey's Revelations Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris Lazarus. Photo by Paul Kolnik4
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ailey's "Revelations" - Photo by Paul Kolnik

Now, with the company’s West Coast premiere of their first ever two-act ballet, Lazarus, choreographer Rennie Harris thrusts the audience on a journey of discrimination, torture, triumph, faith, and hope.

The stage is set with a flash of a strobe light, revealing a tableau of haunting dancers portraying a generation from our past.  Lighting and music play a major role in the success of this piece. Ironically, some of the voiceover and sound-effect devises that Harris employs throughout his piece actually traumatized me––at times it sounds like a modern-day horror film. – Obviously, that’s the point and it appears to work because the audience loves it.

Using patterns, repetition, and themes that continue to unfold and evolve throughout this work, Lazarus is a clearly told story, performed by an ensemble of gorgeously trained artists.

One of the essential moments that resonated a reverberated in my body during this theatrical hip-hop ballet came when the ensemble dancers paint a piercing picture of our past, hitting a high relevé, whilst swaying from side to side in disturbing unison.  Our past, is still very much present, which is why, Lazarus is important.

The piece has glimpses of visually impactful movement characterizing our collective ancestral baggage. However, the work feels longer than it needs to be in order to convey the timely message and gravity of the story.

I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate what Mr. Harris is doing in Lazarus or disputing the weightiness of the narrative, unfortunately for Harris, Mr. Ailey still says it more directly to the heart, and when those are the only two pieces in the evening, I can’t help but compare. Still, Lazarus provoked me in a way that all paramount artistic creations should, which is why I encourage patrons of dance to seek out the new addition to Ailey’s repertory and decide for themselves.

Delightfully, the extraordinarily versatile company will be performing several mixed programs throughout their run at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, including Wayne McGregor’s, Kairos and “Bessie” Award winning Ailey dancer, Jamar Roberts’ Members Don’t Get Weary, which marks his first commission for the company.  Engage your core, find your deepest plie and chasse your way to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continues at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through April 7, 2019. For information and tickets, click here.

Featured image: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris’ Lazarus – Photo by Paul Kolnik