The Alvin Ailey dance company
Taking the audience to the place of deepest grief and holiest joy
By Stephen Weir
In the world of contemporary dance, what goes around really does comes around, especially for the Alvin Ailey dancers.
Last weekend, the venerable American company kicked off their 60 anniversary 21-city tour in Toronto (their only Canadian stop).
Even though it has been three years since they last performed in Toronto, the city has not forgotten them. On opening night at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, the 3,000-seat theatre was filled with many fans who had seen them before and already knew all the ” best parts” of their performance.
And for the Alvin Ailey dancers, cheering, stomping and clapping by
the mostly Caribbean and Black Canadian audience started just after curtain rise and ended only after an encore.
The world’s love affair with the company dates back almost to its very beginnings. It was March 30, 1958 when the late Alvin Ailey and a few fellow dancers performed for one night only at the NYC YMCA. What was meant as a one-off gig turned out to be the start of a new era in the arts.
Ailey became one of the ground-breaking celebrities in modern dance history. He is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation .
At the Friday evening performance, a total of four works were performed over two hours. Two of the four pieces – Stacked Up
and Members Don’t Get Weary -showed off the body strength and agility of the dancers.
Wearing colourful costumes and moving to a sound mix heavily imbued by the works of legendary African American jazz composers, the dancers jumped and twirled without any signs of stress or fatigue. It was perhaps more exhausting for the audience who oohed and awed at the physical power and beauty of the performers.
Ailey passed away in 1989 but his influence continues to be seen on stage. At the Sony Centre, the dancers ended the evening, as they do at all their engagements, with the soul-wrenching performance of Revelations – a dance Ailey created in 1960.
Using African-American spirituals, gospel songs and holy blues, Revelations takes the audience to the place of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul – America’s slaving past.
Built into three movements, the dancers enact the horrors of slavery before taking us to a triumphant finale with the singing and dancing of “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”
The company has performed Revelations to hundreds of thousands of people over the past six decades. It is considered one of the world’s most often seen contemporary dance creation. Ailey has said that one of America’s richest treasures was the African-American cultural heritage -“sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful.”
The Alvin Ailey dance company remains a cherished part of that heritage.