Everybody’s holiday calendar must include at least one evening of the annual month-long performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center. For their 2017 season, one of the many programs (Dec. 12) was packed with works that served up signature Ailey power and prowess, which is nothing new for the dancers of AAADT.
First up was Ulysses Dove’s “Episodes” (1989), a well-tuned reminder of Dove’s penchant for stark lines and lightning-speed balances, or turning and stopping on a dime from anywhere. Dove’s play on relationships—although they sometimes scream misogyny, and to be sure, we look at gender-roles differently today—the propulsive music, the long embraces, near slaps and long-legged saunters from one end of the diagonal to the other, is proof that “Episodes” will forever live on.
The memory-makers are Clifton Brown (so glad that he is back), Sean Aaron Carmon, Jermaine Terry, Michael Francis McBride, Daniel Harder, Rachel McLaren, Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Megan Jakel and Jacqueline Green. Then there was artistic director Robert Battle’s testosterone-driven “The Hunt” (2010), which delivered blow after blow of movement that seemed to push Terry, Harder, Samuel Lee Roberts, Yannick Lebrun, McBride and Kanji Segawa beyond their limit, but unfeigned, they embraced the challenge to the very end.
The highlight of the evening was the return of Jawole Willa Joe Zollar’s “Shelter” (1988), and what a return it was! It had been 25 years since “Shelter” was danced by AAADT—1992. Zollar’s “Shelter” is physically demanding, but clearly taking on the physical needs, and then some, was not beyond the reach of the Ailey women. Zollar’s story is built on the unseen homeless people who are a part of our New York lives, and for the work to be real, the dancers must find a connection. The cast, Ghrai DeVore, Samantha Figgins, Green, Jacquelin Harris, McLaren and Linda Celeste Sims, delivered a visceral and heart-stopping performance. They punctuated each section by piling and un-piling on top of each other, blanketing themselves after falling, running or reaching far in support. We were rapt in their telling of the story. They were dogged in their drive to bring the story to life, and their Ailey-sharp precision was met equally by their emotional truths. Ailey’s classic and uplifting “Revelations” (1960) closed the program.