Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Against the Wall…and other events

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Cal Performances Zellerbach Auditorium
March 14-19, 2017
Dance Company website
Cal Performances link

The Ailey Company has visited UC Berkeley every year for over 20 years. This 2017 series has three programs with works by several choreographers relatively new to Ailey’s original group. Among these are Robert Battle (current artistic director of the company), Mauro Bigonzetti, John Inger, Kyle Abraham, Rennie Harris and Hope Boykin.

The opening program featured “Deep” by Bigonzetti, “Mad” by Inger, “Ella” by Battle and closed with the fifty-seven year old “Revelations,” still the best dance in the company’s repertory. Ibeyi sang the music for “Deep” from a large group of songs by many composers. The lively taped sound was barely understood, but the dancers responded with exuberance. Several group, solos and duets followed an opening trio. The movement vocabulary was wild and expansive, featuring multiple lifts, turns, falls. Leaps and jumps abounded displaying the excellent dancers’ skills. Acrobatic feats and innovative arm gestures abounded. With all of that, it was rhythmically dull and repetitive…and went on and on and on.

It was shocking to hear the familiar sound of Ravel’s “Bolero” played to accompany Johan Inger’s “Walking Mad.” “ Bolero” is probably the most overheard orchestral piece aired on radio. Since “Walking Mad” is both serious and satire, perhaps the musical choice fits the bill. The dance is , literally, built around a wall and the many attempts to go over, through and around it .There may be some serious social implications here…examining who goes in, who climbs over, who is flattened out.
All of these acrobatic events occur. There are mad chases with men in hats and raincoats. Clothes are deposited on the stage floor. Women seduce and are seduced. It’s all very lively but sometimes hard to follow. At the very end, a short duet to music by Arvo Part brings real charm to the proceedings.

A short work, “Ella,” to Ella Fitzgerald’s song and patter, was danced by Jacquelin Harris and Megan Jakel. Battle’s choreography for this was short and sweet, the two girls movement’s reverberating with the patter of the songs and the giggles and jiggles of the movement. A delightful work!

No more can be said about “Revelations,” the company’s signature work that defines Ailey’s commitment to dance and to his ethnic origins.
Each spiritual, designated only as “Traditional,” brings the dance, the dancers and the audience to a profound sense of spiritual wonder. I missed the passion I used to feel in “I want to be ready” here danced with great skill by Sean Aaron Carmon but it was there in “Fix me Jesus” danced by Megan Jakel and Jamar Roberts. By the time “Revelations” closes with “Rocka My Soul in the Boson of Abraham” (music adapted and arranged by Howard A. Roberts,) the audience is on its feet ready to “Wade in the Water.” Ailey’s choreography reminds us that simple, clear, rhythmically rich and varied movement can carry emotional weight and effectiveness more than all the acrobatic skills that plague today’s dance vocabulary.

Programs continue throughout the week of March 14-19, 2017. Cal Performances is also sponsoring many public events, classes and celebrations throughout the UC Campus. We look forward to the Ailey Camp that sponsors young people to a six-week summer workshop.

Joanna G. Harris

San Francisco,
Joanna Gewertz Harris, Ph.D, is a dance teacher, historian, reviewer, and lecturer. She taught dance and theater at UCB, UCSC, Cal State Hayward and Sonoma, and is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and books, most recently to H'Doubler, and Legacy in Dance Education, both from Cambria Press. Beyond Isadora, Bay Area Dancing 1915-1965 , her book documenting Bay Area history (Price $40. + 2.00 shipping) is available from her web site beyondsadora.com and her e mail, joannagharris@comcast.net.