At the end of every program by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the audience delivers a standing ovation. The reason is not only the accomplished, athletic dancing. It’s also because no matter what other works precede it, all performances finish with the troupe’s iconic Revelations, choreographed by company founder Alvin Ailey in 1960. Impeccably stitched together from a suite of African-American spirituals, Revelations ends with “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” uniting the animated performers on the stage with the standing, swaying audience in the Auditorium Theatre, the Chicago home of the New York–based company for almost half a century.
Were the program to omit Revelations, the audience might stage a walkout — and rightly so. Revelations, which has been seen by more people than any other contemporary dance work, is that rare dance creation that never gets old. Ten spirituals infuse the dancing with depth and variety and make the work instantly accessible. Highlights include “Wade in the Water,” with its slow, extended movement accented by flowing fabric waves, and the energetic “Sinner Man,” all brilliantly lit by Nicola Cernovitch. Décor and costumes by Ves Harper, with “Rocka My Soul” costumes redesigned by Barbara Forbes, amp up the fervor. But it is the talent of the 32 dancers that raises Revelations to the holy.
The dances that come before Revelations vary according to the program and include new work as well as revivals, with an emphasis on African-American choreographers. The Chicago programs feature two new works, Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s Victoria and Members Don’t Get Weary, choreographed by Ailey dancer Jamar Roberts. Members Don’t Get Weary led on opening night, set to jazz by John Coltrane. Indeed, the dancers are like jazz instruments, with the back and forth movements of bobbing saxophone players. Costumes by the choreographer in every shade of blue from cobalt to cerulean evoke the blues, as does dusky lighting by Brandon Stirling Baker. As the piece opens the dancers balance flat wide-brimmed hats on their heads. The hats lend an interesting geometry to the dance but ultimately serve as a distraction, so it is a relief when the sombreros are doffed. With the repetition and extended riffs of jazz, Members Don’t Get Weary lowers the volume on the 10 powerful dancers, with the energy elevated for a moment when a male dancer spins with a speed that astonishes.
Next up on opening night was a new production of Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section, created by Tharp in 1983. With its new wave rock score by David Byrne [music alert: Byrne will perform at the Auditorium in June] and gleaming gold costumes by Santo Loquasto, the high-energy piece has the buzz of a screwdriver cocktail, orange juice powered by vodka. In Tharp’s punchy, flex-footed choreography, a little bumping and grinding fits right in, and the Ailey dancers don’t hold back.
Music by Nina Simone scores In/Side, choreographed by Ailey artistic director Robert Battle for a solo male dancer, with Chicago native Solomon Dumas taking the demanding role on opening night and Yannick Lebrun and Jermaine Terry at other performances. Simone’s lyrical vocals contrast with twisting, tormented movement and dramatic falls.
Other programs include a revival of the 1982 work Stack-Up, inspired by Los Angeles street life and choreographed by Talley Beatty, who grew up in Chicago. Filling out the rest are Ella, Mass, Shelter, Hunt and Cry. All the programs are capped off with Revelations.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Chicago
Programs A, B & C through March 11, 2018
Tickets $41 and up at Auditorium Theatre or (312) 341-230