Alvin Ailey leaves us in a daze

04.30.12
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
The Boston Phoenix

Dance Dance Revelations

By Cassandra Landry

Anyone who has seen them — dance enthusiast or not — can tell you that Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is a feverish love poem to the human body. Performing at the Wang Theatre through April 29, their arrival has sparked a palpable magnetic pull in the Theater District.

Rather than tell you about the minutia of the choreography, something that only holds meaning when seen in the moment, I can instead speak to the emotions that pulsed off the stage last night. Attempting to take notes, even blindly scribbling in the dark while I watched the stage, became laughable the second the music began to ebb from the speakers. I couldn't move, breathe, much less try to formulate feeling into words on a page in my lap. This is exactly the way Alvin Ailey is meant to be experienced.

The programs change each evening, and due to sheer luck, we were treated to "Home," the latest from choreographer Rennie Harris, and the newest addition for a company whose signature number was first performed in 1960. Taking its inspiration from a "Fight HIV Your Way" photo/essay contest run by the pharma company Bristol-Myers Squibb, it's a heart-achingly complex piece, full of explosive, hip-hop-infused energy and release. (I can't help noticing how ripped every dancer is. I make a mental note to do extra crunches this week.)

The curtain drops, and we're all left catching our collective breath before it rises again to show a dancer standing alone. "Takademe" is a solo piece, composed in artistic director Robert Battle's living room in the late 1990s, and set to the primal spoken song, "Speaking in Tongues II," by Sheila Chandra. The combination is the single most accurate physical embodiment of sound and silence I have ever witnessed, and I'm left staring at dancer Kirven James Boyd in disbelief for all of three minutes and twenty seconds. He has transformed himself into a molecule of the music, all frenetic movement and rollicking motion.

"The Hunt," another piece from Battle, is startlingly aggressive. It's just six men on stage, in a composed war dance, alternately fighting each other and joining together in circles shot through with screaming bursts of adrenaline and testosterone.

Everything up to this point has been magnificent, but we all know why we're really here, and as the lights come up for the last time, the crowd bursts into applause, unable to contain their anticipation.

Everyone and their mother will tell you that Revelations is perfection. I'd seen snatches of the choreography throughout my life as a dancer — sinewy company dancers reaching for the sky in a tight clump, center stage — but was completely unprepared for what was about to happen. I should preface this by saying that I'm not a religious person. Spirituality, however, I can relate to, and "spiritual" is the only thing I can come up with to encapsulate the ups and downs of founder Alvin Ailey's claim to fame. The whole of "Revelations" is composed like the greatest album in your collection, in that it rises and falls in all the right places. Each section is a study in athletic control and pure, unadulterated motion; the trust and observable connection between the dancers of "Fix Me, Jesus," a duet of the first movement, brings a weird catch in my throat, and "Sinner Man," is quick, catchy, and shows off the sheer technical skill the group is known for.

As Battle joked before the performance, he would take it off of the program as soon as, "someone gets on a step ladder and takes down the Mona Lisa." The man knows what he's doing.

On the train ride home, those of us clutching the tell-tale crimson programs sat in a shell-shocked, dreamy reverie, private grins plastered on our faces as we tried to recapture glimpses of things we had just seen.