A farewell, a beginning for dance troupe

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Philadelphia Inquirer

By Ellen Dunkel

Judith Jamison's farewell tour as artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater stopped here, in her hometown, last weekend, as the company danced three performances at the Academy of Music.

It was a lovefest, and for good reasons: The dancing was powerful and sublime. The program included newer works and a classic favorite. Not only is Jamison from Philadelphia, but several members of the company are from Pennsylvania or New Jersey, or trained or danced with Philadanco.

One can't help but be skeptical about a transition. Robert Battle will succeed Jamison in July to become just the third artistic director (Ailey was the first). Battle has led his own company, Battleworks; set 11 pieces for the Ailey and Ailey II, the junior company; and served as the troupe's artist in residence. But Ailey is the gold standard in modern dance, and taking the helm would be a giant leap for anyone.

That said, Battle gets the company, as he demonstrated Saturday night in his 2001 work The Hunt, a testosterone-filled work for six men, who take martial-arts stances, flex the muscles in their bare chests, duel, tango, run, jump, borrow footwork from folk dance to boxing, "shoot" each other, and drag their victims across the stage. The message: They are warriors who can handle anything.

The Evolution of a Secured Feminine, Camille A. Brown's 2007 piece set to songs by Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter, and Nancy Wilson, is almost the estrogen version - a jazzy, sexy, personality-filled solo danced by Ghrai DeVore. Her costume is half business suit, half bra, with a bowler hat that covers a good third of her face. She exudes confidence, deliberately moving a shoulder for more appeal, acting out the lyrics, moving to her own audible breaths, and saucily encouraging applause.

The program opened with Anointed, which Christopher L. Huggins set for the Ailey company last year. It features slow, beautiful duets that show off the dancers' strength and control and high-energy sections bursting with risky, twisty lifts, and a classical dance vocabulary.

No Ailey celebration is complete without Revelations, the classic work that Ailey created 50 years ago. It was introduced Saturday with a brief film that included the choreographer speaking about the "blood memories" that inspired it. Set to a selection of spirituals, it's a brief journey through black history with nods to slavery, civil rights, and religion.

But ultimately, it's a joyous work with great depth, stunningly beautiful lines, and music that stays with you. Saturday night, as every time I've seen it, Revelations brought down the house in a party mode. And that's what Jamison's farewell and Battle's new beginning are all about.