Raw Beauty

Alvin Ailey Dance Company fearlessly addresses slavery, oppression and salvation


In the world of subjectivity, art reigns supreme. The very definition is slippery, hard to tack down. Perhaps it’s not too bold to claim that most well-done art tells a story. It makes you think and, regardless of the opinion you form of it, leaves its impression just by doing so. It can crash down on you the moment you experience it and still subtly seep in on the drive home. It keeps leaving something to contemplate.

The Alvin Ailey Dance Company left about 1,400 people in The Times Union Center’s Moran Theater with plenty to chew on after its one-night performance Feb. 25.

Their show opened with “Home,” an urban contemporary piece. This, like the other three choreographies of the evening, told its own unique story. It opened with a single light cascading down from the top of the stage. The entire company stood in abstract, some contorted, positions. Their collective shape was a thing of art in its own right against the cool palette of teal and purple on the backdrop screen. The soundtrack began with a timid thump like a heartbeat, the dancers flawlessly matching its intensity as the beat grew and morphed and became more present. The initial, controlled imitation of slow motion and discovery of their surroundings grew and soon dancers were sprinting and jumping and pirouetting across the stage.

The momentum slowly winded down until the company, all except one dancer, was back into standing into one group. That one dancer turned over his shoulder, addressed the audience with a glance, and as he returned back into the rest of the company, the group gave a sudden, gasping inhale and the lights went out.

Like that last breath, the company used sound very sparingly and effectively. Each dancer was incredibly composed and light on their feet. Aside from the backing track, most of their highly athletic jumps and maneuvers were executed with complete silence. When they did make a sound, it was there for a reason. It served a purpose in the story they were trying to tell. The swords in “Tiny Morte” got a strong reaction from the audience as they swooshed through the air and clanged against the floor, rolling in a perfect circle around the dancer’s feet. The same piece included some comedic effect from the ladies of the company, as they swiftly scooted around the stage behind blossoming dress props.

The third choreography, “Strange Humors,” featured two male company members as they frenetically moved about the stage to the soundtrack of violins playing at breakneck speed. A red hue enveloped them as they contorted and stretched and pirouetted without missing a beat. It was controlled chaos.

While each part of the four-piece performance had a unique tone and told a certain story, life and death — with a salvation in religion — seemed to be a recurring theme in each of them. As its name might imply, that theme was most present in “Revelations,” the final act of the evening. It’s the company’s most traditional piece, with the choreography done by the late Alvin Ailey during the beginning of his legacy in 1960. The backdrop of a sun sets behind the company as they navigate the piece through the setting of the slavery-era south.

The performance closed with an encore dance of “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” from “Revelations,” during which the company got much of the theater to stand and clap and dance along.

Through expertly done performance art, Alvin Ailey Dance Company fearlessly addresses slavery, oppression and salvation in a show that offers as much raw beauty and athleticism to marvel at as significant themes and questions to mull over.

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