Saturday, March 29th, 2014 the Alvin Ailey American dance theater returned to the Segestrom Center presenting fresh, new works during a matinee performance. Recognized by U.S Congressional resolution in 1958 as a vital American “Cultural Ambassador to the World”, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has since not only changed the perception of American dance but also guided by Judith Jamison has grown into a successful dance company that has performed in 71 countries on six continents.
The Alvin Ailey School, founded in 1969, is one of the most extensive dance training programs in the world. Ailey dancers are recognizable by their athletic, long, muscular bodies, a strong core and their incredibly defined back. The reason is: Ailey’s technique, which is based on contracting and releasing the upper body and using the breath to emphasize every movement while dancing. Ailey's dancers integrate and take their power from the floor, so from the bottom up. This is why they seem so incredible grounded while moving. They are technically trained but the technique fuses technical “ballet like” movements with modern “jazzy” movements.
No doubt the dance companies uniqueness and success lies in enriching the American modern tradition but what is even more evident in this performance is that all pieces promote the African-American cultural experience using Gospel or Jazz music and incorporating tribal movements.
Program B starts very traditional with all dancers in light colored tights, performing THE RIVER, choreographed by the master Alvin Ailey himself.
The music of Duke Ellington and the simple turquoise background eases the audience into the spell of these picture perfect modern dancers moving, meandering and giggling across the stage in numerous formations. Ailey likes diagonals and while Kelly Graf Mack excites with her gorgeous leg extensions, the gentlemen Yannick Lebrun and Jermain Terry draw in the audience with their uplifting and positive attitude. Moving through the pieces Lake, Falls, Vortex, Riba and Twin Cities briskly, the dancers Rachel McLaren, Kelly Robotham, Aqura Lacey, Jaqueline Green, Linda Sims, Glenn Sims, Sean Carmon and Vernard Gilmore, Marcus Willis, Collin Hayward and Daniel Harder seem all too obvious in expressing how much they enjoy the exploration of the movements, either dancing alone or in small groups very musically across the stage. Although the choreography may include some simple kicks and some dancers may be bare foot, it’s all about the attitude, playing off each other and having a good time. As the music switches from Jazz to Rumba and the background turns red, the dancers switch pace perfectly and the dancing becomes more challenging. The gentlemen impress with powerful combinations adding double and triple turns. Lovely is also the last scene where two ladies and two gentlemen are partnering each other.
Act two starts with the west coast premier of LIFT, choreographed by Aszure Barton. The choreography here matches the music by Curtis Macdonald perfectly. One can see newer movements and the stylistic changes made, give the company an evolved feel. The tribal drumbeats create an atmosphere where not only the dancers on stage but also the audience feels inclined to move. The energy is undeniable. The ruffled skirts with long waistlines add a new flair to this piece.
As the music changes once again to a more legato pace, the movements become more sensual and the dancers seem to be holding their poses longer. Gorgeous here the couple dancing, where the lady has her head glued on the gentleman’s chest.
The two bodies, symbolizing lovers maybe, melt into one another and seem to be floating weightless into the air.
Towards the end of this act, the company connects with each other using their upper legs as drums and tapping their hands to the beat, jumping up and down in a very tribal manner.
Act three concludes the evening with GRACE, a more traditional piece, choreographed by Arcell Cabuag.
The ladies Alicia Mack, Aqura Laicey and Hope Boykin in flowy wide white pants and the gentlemen Matthew Rushing, Daniel Harder, Marcus Willis, Yannick Lebrun, Kanji Segawa and Ghrai DeVore moving to the Gospel music in white and bright colored red costumes, interpreting the God’s word perfectly. There is a certain gratitude and elatedness in the dancing and once the dancers start dancing with their chest and their heads pointed up towards the white light coming from above it is clear that this performance is not only for the enjoyment of the audience but also for the creator, the angels and all the spirits above. It is this exact feeling of spirituality and connection that binds these dancers and enrapture audiences. At the end of it all, grand applause and an endless standing ovation comes with no surprise, even long after the dancing is over.