Four-year residency for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater completes first lap at Music Center

Dance · Reviews
AAADT in Kyle Abraham’s ‘Are You in Your Feelings?’ photo by Paul Kolnik

The hyper-popular Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater closed a seven-performance run, March 20-24, 2024, at the Los Angeles Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion yesterday — kind of a new post-COVID booking-high in southern California — bringing immense joy to myriad audience members in live performances. Los Angeles has always been a prime outpost of the New York-based Ailey Company, and its special connection to audiences and community here has spawned the Music Center’s excellent decision to host the Ailey folk annually over four years. It will auger the most consistent presence of a dance company in huge 3,000-seat Chandler hall since the heyday of The Joffrey Ballet’s high-profile presence in Los Angeles in the 1990s. It will allow audiences to track repertory and particular dancers of interest, just as is possible in New York. And it acknowledges, tacitly or overtly, that Ailey, although born in Texas, moved to L.A. as a youngster and very much came of age here. He was a wide-eyed, impressionable, intelligent, and aware young man who took full advantage of the city, traveling from South L.A. all around town to performances and, famously, to Lester Horton’s Dance Theater on Melrose Avenue where he got his dance start.

The residency celebrates important anniversaries for two mid-century arts organizations. It is the Music Center’s 60th year — still going strong, still the performing arts heartbeat of the city, the gathering point for our marvelously multicultural audiences. And, it is the Ailey Company’s 65th anniversary.

Ode’ Choreographer: Jamar Roberts photo: ©Paul Kolnik

There will be benefit to community — especially for children. During the March run, the Ailey Arts In Education & Community Programs visited two middle schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District for a week-long arts-learning experience entitled “Revelations: An Interdisciplinary Approach.” That’s a dry title for a robust experience for kids. The program entails classroom workshops for students to examine the work and historical impact of Alvin Ailey; a writing project on students’ self-reflection; and a discussion on the choreography of Ailey’s masterpiece “Revelations.” These kids capped their educational experience by attending a special matinee performance at The Music Center. I wonder if they are encouraged to shriek and carry on the way adults do, marring the impact of Ailey’s great masterwork for audience members who wish to experience “Revelations” in a more mindful, quiet way. I feel very blessed to have seen “Revelations” many many times before this unfortunate, interruptive practice became the norm.

Additionally, The Music Center has arranged for Ailey to provide an AileyDance for Active Aging workshop for older adults in partnership with non-profit organization EngAGE, Inc., at The Piedmont Senior Apartments in North Hollywood.

Are You in Your Feelings?’ Choreographer: Kyle Abraham
photo: ©Paul Kolnik

The company looked, as-ever, beautiful, with its incredibly handsome, versatile, well-trained dancers, who are cream of the crop. There are stunners among its ranks — two of them, Chalvar Monteiro and Ashley Green, pictured above, Kyle Abraham featured in “Are You In Your Feelings?” (2022), in its Los Angeles premiere. But I was underwhelmed by the opening night’s selected repertory. I found Abraham’s “Feelings” a multifarious sketch in search of a purpose, particularly in its music curation which is normally an Abraham strong suit. I’m perfectly content watching Abraham’s extraordinary spew of strongly held balletic-verticality deconstructed, in his velvety touch, into spine squiggles and floor ploppings. In fact, I love it. Abraham is our finest purveyor of beat-by-beat, game-changing movement invention since the advent of William Forsythe. But I regretted that Kyle did not pick up the ball he so brilliantly carried in “An Untitled Love” (2022), in which his simple placement of a living room couch at stage-center sparked hilarious dramatic possibilities in dance. “Feelings,” a cheerful tour of human romantic connection, ground to a halt with a tepid unisex pas de deux, from which, for me, it did not recover.

Jamar Roberts held the prestigious position of the Ailey company’s resident choreographer when he created his elegiac “Ode” (2019), which had its Los Angeles premiere Wednesday night. Perhaps too carefully hewing to its dense jazz score by Don Pullen, the movement vocabulary for this sextet for all women (it is also danced by the corollary, all men) struck me as so bland as to be reminiscent of college-level choreography. I departed the hall much unmoved by this soft-ball program (rounded out by “Revelations”) that at face value seemed to connect so very little with our real world — I felt this despite the knowledge that in crafting “Ode,” Roberts was deeply motivated by the plague of American gun violence. Americans are watching tough, tough programming nightly on Netflix. Let’s bring some of that edge into our dance concerts.

The Music Center needs to upgrade the Chandler’s sound system.

Dance critic Debra Levine first saw Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform in the early 1970s. As a dancer, she took classes at the company’s bustling studios at 229 East 59th Street. Alvin Ailey, who was much influenced by the jazz choreographer Jack Cole, serves as a key source for Debra’s upcoming biography of Cole.

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