Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater | Dance review

  • Photograph: Paul Kolnik

    Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Arden Court by Paul Taylor

  • Photograph: Paul Kolnik

    Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Minus 16 by Ohad Naharin

  • Photograph: Christopher Duggan

    Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Revelations by Alvin Ailey

Photograph: Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Arden Court by Paul Taylor

The obvious evidence of new leadership at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is the addition of choreography by Paul Taylor (Arden Court, 1981) and Ohad Naharin (Minus 16, “1999”) to its repertoire. But aside from their novelty relative to the NYC company’s fare prior to last summer, when Robert Battle took the helm as AAADT artistic director, who can say whether the troupe in these pieces looks any different than it would under Battle’s predecessor, Judith Jamison? On April 11, opening night of a run through Sunday at the Auditorium Theatre, it was the company’s take on Ailey’s Revelations (1960) that imparted most a changed guard.

Forever the finale at Ailey performances—its last section danced twice, per tradition—this beloved triptych was during the late Jamison era usually presented the way number-one singles are played at an arena concert. It wasn’t an Ailey show, one felt, unless the three “Sinner Men” defied gravity and physics and spun forever. “Fix Me, Jesus” had to feature legs pointed heavenward in addition to arms and eyes. If “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” didn’t raise the roof, it didn’t rock. Ailey’s Rev was reliably good for a good time but superheroics flatten a work’s grace.

Starting with side curtains (“legs”) hung closer together, letterboxing the proscenium’s cinematic aspect ratio to something squarer, like a tube television’s screen, Revelations was on Wednesday returned to human scale. “I Wanna Be Ready,” its male solo danced mostly on the floor, was milled by Antonio Douthit from a single conceptual block. In “The Day is Past and Gone,” each of the company’s women fluttered her fan with a unique combination of qualities; this simple section, sometimes phoned-in, was freshly shaped with a theater director’s eye. “Abraham” was exuberant as usual, but also elegant and even humble. The line of men who, finishing the piece, drop to their knees held their arms not up in cheerleaders’ Vs but out to the horizon, to a rising sun, to the future.

Battle’s addition of Minus 16 to the company’s portfolio was a genius move, not least because it removes from Revelations the burden of having to raise the roof. Audience participation is already a tradition at Ailey shows; Wednesday’s house included a woman who yelled at full voice during Rev, “YOU BETTER DANCE, VERNARD!” During Minus 16, the dancers select audience members—usually those wearing brightly colored or flashy outfits, so you know—and bring them onto the stage for a series of surprises. Those who remained seated went nuts and Revelations was freed to bring us back down to Earth, for a change.

Ailey’s version of Minus contains choreography from as recent as 2005, hence the scare quotes above. It’s shorter and less cohesive than the Minus 16 Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performed for years. The company looks remarkably comfortable if a bit too showy wearing Naharin’s signature style although Kirven James Boyd and Ghrai DeVore seared the shapes in a slow duet to Vivaldi.

Arden Court opened the program on a shakier note, its cast of nine outside their wheelhouses, especially the men. They’ll find their legs, and arms and heads, for dancing Taylor. Transitions take time.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs this triple bill and a second program (also concluding with Revelations) at the Auditorium Theatre through April 15.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)