"SWEET REVELATION: FIRSTWORKS UNVEILS AILEY'S MASTERPIECE IN PROVIDENCE"
for GET Magazine, May 2011 issue
Article by Meredith Cutler
Founded by legendary choreographer and dancer Alivn Ailey in 1958, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater remains one of the most recognized names in dance today. Having performed for an estimated 23 million people worldwide, Ailey's namesake continues to dazzle audiences two decades after his death with riveting choreography, compelling scores, and the sheer grace and athleticism of the company's 30 gorgeous dancers.
On May 10, FirstWorks brings Ailey to Providence Performing Arts Center for the city's first full-company performance in the company's 52-year history. This tour also marks the final season for dance icon Judith Jamison, who spearheads Ailey's vision as Artistic Director since his untimely death in 1989. Poised to inherit Jamison's title on July 1st is choreographer Robert Battle, joining this tour as Artistic Director Designate. For the company, this moment marks a daring transition to a leadership who will have had no direct discourse with Ailey. A confident Jamison assures that Battle "is without question the creative force of the future."
This transformational tour also marks the 50th anniversary of Ailey's signature piece, Revelations, hailed by the New York Times as a "timeless tribute to humanity". Set as a suite of traditional African-American spirituals in three sections, Revelations breathes movement, color and brilliantly costumed life into Ailey's "blood memories" of growing up African American in Texas decades before the civil-rights movement.
"Alvin Ailey said that one of America's richest treasures was the cultural heritage of the African-American – 'sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful,'" recounted Jamison. "Revelations is a profound manifestation of how dance can celebrate the human spirit and impact our hearts and minds."
"Celebrating Revelations at 50," a short film by Emmy Award-winning producer and director Judy Kinberg, will be screened as part of the program at each venue.
The enduring beauty of Ailey's namesake is how it spreads the gospel of a much wider dance legacy. Accompanying Revelations (1960) is Suite Otis (1971), a tribute to the late Otis Redding by George W. Faison. The program also celebrates acclaimed young choreographers, including Robert Battle's The Hunt (2001) and Camille A. Brown's The Evolution of a Secured Feminine (2007); which, for the first time will feature a soloist other than Brown herself.
Set to the brazen beat of Les Tambours Du Bronx, The Hunt's bare-chested male dancers ripple and leap to a core-pounding rhythm. In perfect symmetry, Brown's 'Evolution celebrates the many shades of femininity to a score of rich vocals by Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson.
This performance marks the finale of FirstWorks' Season of Celebrating Ailey: A Cultural Legend, spotlighting significant contributions of African American artists to our cultural heritage, and featuring performances and educational programs by Sweet Honey in the Rock, Ailey II (the junior company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre), and Nicky Mathis' Afrikan Amerikan Jazz Quartet. Closing FirstWorks' incredible season, Ailey promises to inspire, uplift and entertain. Tickets are available through the PPAC box office at 401-421-ARTS (2787) and online at first-works.org.
Image: Jamar Roberts of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Photo by Andrew Eccles.