In pair of works, troupe spans cultures and decades

04.11.12
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Chicago Tribune

By Sid Smith

Ailey dance company triumphs with black gospel-themed 'Revelations,' eclectic 'Minus 16'

Masterpiece is a dangerous term, always risking overstatement. But Ohad Naharin's "Minus 16" and Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" deserve that acclaim, and they do so by embracing a shared theme, the power of community, especially community tinged by faith and spiritual feeling.

For his first season as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Robert Battle has brought two programs here, one of them boasting this extraordinary pair of great works.

They are decades and planets apart. "Revelations," from 1960, is an occasionally realistic, sometimes supplicating, sometimes blistering celebration of the African-American gospel tradition. "Minus 16" is a collection of excerpts from various works from the early '90s through 2005, mixing sights and sounds of Jewish culture with postmodern playlets, frenzied impromptu hoedowns and what may be the most invigorating use of audience participation in our lifetime. Ailey was long dead when Naharin put "Minus 16" together, but you have to think he would have loved it, he might have run up on stage with all the others at the end.

"Revelations" offers an orderly survey of one giant gospel classic after another, suffering, sinning and comic congregational preening in the parade. It turns the concert hall into a kind of church, and so does "Minus 16," which begins when one dancer takes center stage during intermission, improvising in solo as the audience wanders back to their seats, inviting them, while warning them that they're part of the act.

Deliciously entertaining, it pounds a meaty thematic gavel: Dance is a solo instinct that can somehow grip us with frenzied abandon and take us outside ourselves, into something broader, something that makes us belong to the larger human race. In "Minus 16," we are, however briefly, born again.

Wednesday's opening also included Paul Taylor's "Arden Court," a more stylized, technical work, but a great one, too. Taylor and the Ailey company always boast terrific dancers, and while Taylor's style is different, more formal, here the Ailey company's technical prowess comes into full use to showcase the precision, pinpoint timing and complexity Taylor injects into this artfully lyrical piece.

Among other works on view during the visit through Sunday at the Auditorium Theatre is Ailey's "Memoria," featuring Chicago dance students in the cast.