Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater opens first tour in 2 years at Academy of Music

On a snowy Friday night, the Academy of Music was nearly full for the opening of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

It wasn’t just a Philadelphia opener, but the launch of the company’s 2022 national tour as well as its second set of live performances since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I think it’s very appropriate [to open in Philadelphia] — and very close to New York,” the company’s art director Robert Battle said by phone earlier today. “So it’s a good start, you know, not being on a plane.”

It was appropriate because the company and Battle have many ties to Philadelphia. Battle studied at Juilliard under Performance Garage owner Jeanne Ruddy. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Arts in 2014.

Several of the company’s dancers have performed with Philadanco, including Jermaine Terry, Jeroboam Bozeman and Michael Jackson Jr. Another dancer, Kanji Segawa, has choreographed extensively for the Metropolitan Ballet Academy in Jenkintown.

Friday’s opening program (which alternates with a second set of dances at the Academy) was an eight-piece tasting menu, including many solos and duets, ending with his signature Revelationswhich is practically mandatory when Ailey comes to town.

The program had less fireworks than many Ailey programs, but it was a delightful mix of everything the company can do, all choreographed by Battle except for Ailey’s Revelations.

The company is also smaller now. A number of dancers, including Hope Boykin, who previously danced with Philadanco and is now a choreographer, retired in early 2020, and the company has not replaced them. He also furloughed all Ailey 2 dancers. Hiring has resumed.

The last work on the program this weekend was For four, which premiered in December in New York. It’s kind of a pandemic piece, in that Battle started working on it in early 2021, when the dancers were just starting to come out. At first he had planned a solo but then found himself with four dancers who worked in cohort.

It was also a standout piece for Battle, who decided to step out of their comfort zone for this piece set to music by Wynton Marsalis, as it was only meant to be shown once during a virtual benefit. for the company.

“I’m not very jazzy in my choreographic nature,” Battle said. But thinking that a single virtual visualization was a safe space, he decided, “I’m just going to do things that I wouldn’t normally do in terms of movement choices. And so I think that kind of freed me up.

The four dancers, however, would not touch.

“I’m not huge on partnership anyway,” Battle said. “The thing is, elevators drive me crazy. I’m a nervous nelly. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, put it down.’ It’s a lot of fun. I’ve always been like that.

As the coins of the pandemic disappear, For four is optimistic, showing that there is still joy to be found. This is a relief, considering the amount of recent work on isolation and fear.

But if you know where to look in this short article, there’s a bit of that too. At one point, a dancer falls to the ground, with a flag thrown behind her. In the virtual version, Battle said, the red of the flag draped over the dancer looked like blood.

“I grew up as a scout,” Battle said. “You know that symbolism? We took the oath of allegiance and looked at the flag. And to see how the flag has taken on different meanings for different people, who use it as a kind of weapon to say their nationalism means you don’t belong.

But it’s only a moment in time, especially on stage. If a member of the public doesn’t see it that way, that’s fine too, he said.

“Most people can just see it as, ‘Oh, the jazz. Jazz is American. Oh, the American flag. Oh, hot dogs and fireworks. And that’s good too. I like that people draw from it what they want.

“But for me personally, having been raised in Liberty City [Miami] as a child remembering the civil unrest, remembering the shootings of unarmed black people in my neighborhood. And so, when we hit those inflection moments, even if I try to suppress that to continue, it lifts its head.

Other pieces on the program also used signature music, including Insidea solo by Nina Simone, and shea solo to music by Ella Fitzgerald.

Excerpt from love stories, set to music by Stevie Wonder, is a fun celebration of black dance and one of three parts of a work that also features sections choreographed by Artistic Director Emeritus Judith Jamison and Rennie Harris, both of Philadelphia.

The most delightful part was when the lights descended from the ceiling and the dancers twisted and bowed towards the back of the stage, as if the audience was really there.

Maybe we had all been part of this celebration of returning to dancing the whole time.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Academy of Music. 215-893-1999, kimmelculturalcampus.org

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