Ailey II nods to iconic past, looks toward new future

Ailey II
The Williams Record

By Sofia Benares

Given the prestige and impeccable skill of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers, the company’s arrival in Williamstown marked once of the biggest dance shows of the year at the College.

Ailey II performed on Sept. 17 to a full theater. Students, faculty and members of the community came down to the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance MainStage to watch the performance. This was a show, it seemed, that no one wanted to miss.

The first piece on the program was “Streams,” choreographed by Alvin Ailey himself in 1970. This piece was inspired and centered on the idea of water. Ailey took the concept and turned it into fluid movements and dynamic stage compositions. It was nothing short of mesmerizing.

This was a great opener to the show mostly in that the costumes were extremely simple: All of the dancers were clad in light blue bodysuits. These costumes, by nature, provided the dancers nothing to hide behind; unforgiving, they would have showed every tiny mistake, every single muscle or toe out of place, every line that was a couple of degrees out of synch with the rest of the group’s lines. While the costumes themselves did not dazzle, what they showed off did. The dancers proved their mythic skill, and their lines were impeccable. Their jumps were three feet (at least) into the air. Their lifts looked effortless. Their bodies were sculpted to the point of wanting to hate them for it. These were athletes of the highest degree – something that their costume director, it seems, did not want us to forget.

The second piece performed was much more contemporary. Titled “Virtues,” this piece was choreographed just last year. While this dance was made four decades after the last one, I was surprised by how seamlessly it was integrated into the Ailey style and aesthetic; this was by no means a piece choreographed to the latest top 20 single, but rather, something that stayed true to the identity of the company as it has developed through the years. “Virtues” was much more upbeat than “Streams” and did not seem to take itself as seriously. The dancers now bore wide smiles on their faces, and the dance as a whole felt lighter. “Virtues” was a crowd favorite that evening, probably because of this delightful cheerfulness.

Last, but most definitely not least, was the iconic “Revelations.” This piece, choreographed in 1960 by Ailey, is the company’s signature piece. It has been performed all over the world in all different generations and faces of the company. In many respects, “Revelations” is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

The crowd in the ’62 Center was tangibly excited – and for good reason – during the 15-minute intermission preceding “Revelations.” When the curtain was drawn up, we saw the dancers in a cluster on stage, with the men clad in pants and the women in floor-length shifts. The choreography that opened “Revelations” – amazing in its simplicity, with the dancers remaining in this cluster and moving only their arms in symmetrical patterns – is the choreography that dominates almost all pictures of the company. This was the dance that everyone had been anticipating.

Throughout the piece, the dancers continued to show off their athletic and technical prowess just as they had in the previous pieces. Again, we were bombarded with impeccable lines, ridiculous jumps and seemingly impossible lifts.

The storied Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater definitely fulfilled the audience’s expectations. The company’s athleticism, grace and technical lines rewarded audience members who had long awaited the opportunity to see these talented (and jacked) dancers at work.