by Dom Jones
I grew up hearing my mother and older sisters constantly rave about the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and how crucial Alvin Ailey was to the evolution of African-Americans in the world of dance. When the opportunity arose for me to attend opening night of their run in the Celebrity Series of Boston at Boch Center Wang Theare, I had to go. Before the show, I was also able to briefly chat with one of the dancers, Rachael McLaren. From Manitoba, Canada, Rachael began her formal dance training at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. She joined the Toronto cast of Mamma Mia! after high school, but eventually moved to New York to study at The Ailey School, and later joined Ailey II. When we spoke, she doted on Alvin Ailey’s contribution to contemporary dance in America, noting that she’d come from a more traditional background, and moving to America gave her an opportunity to spread her wings with different styles of dance. The theater was abuzz as I walked up to the entrance with people pouring out from the entrance, waiting to get inside. The palpable excitement of event goers only grew as I was ushered towards my seat.
The first piece, “Deep,” was the perfect display of artistry to begin the show with. It drew the audience member into the story, especially with the music of Ibeyi to accompany this dance piece. Dressed in all black, I interpreted the movement as a story between loves – a longing to connect, and an emptiness when that connection was unavailable or unsatisfactory. It was such a breathtaking display that when it ended, there seemed to be a collective exhale among the audience, as though we’d all been holding our breaths waiting for what was next. This was a truly transcendent moment, and the night had just begun.
I anxiously awaited the next piece during intermission. This would be “Walking Mad,” and it left me quite disturbed, as the emotions it evoked were quite the opposite of the first piece. That could be deemed positive, but for me, it was too stark a shift from the first piece. I was thankful for the second intermission when it came, and hoped that the third piece, “Ella,” would recenter the energy in the room.
Even in its brevity, this piece accomplished that goal for me, and left me happily awaiting the iconic and classic Alvin Ailey piece (and the final piece of the night) “Revelations.” The above photo is from “Revelations,” and perfectly depicts the energy of the piece. As a lover of Negro Spirituals, this movements of the larger work paid homage to the beautiful music that came from such horrific history. There were familiar songs, such as “Wade in the Water” or “I Wanna Be Ready,” but there were also lesser known songs such as “Sinner Man” and “You May Run On.” The ending found the audience on its feet clapping and singing along, with the energy higher than the show began.
Since I’ve lived in Boston for the past two years, I have wondered where the cultural diversity in performance has been, with a few musical acts stopping through now and again (I’ve seen Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Kevin Ross, and Chronixx so far). Other mediums of art outside of music have seemed extremely monolithic in their presentations of work. The Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s visit to Boston was certainly a breath of fresh air.
HAVE YOU SEEN ALVIN AILEY’S WORK? SOUND OFF IN THE COMMENTS!