Ailey II dancers cap UAB residency with riveting performance at Stephens Center

Ailey II

By Michael Huebner

Ailey II, the second company of the renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, wrapped up its season-long UAB residency Friday night by nearly filling the Alys Stephens Center’s Jemison Concert Hall and performing like dancers on the cusp of great careers.

These 12 young dancers couldn’t be in a better place. They are positioned not only to absorb the professionalism of their counterparts at AAADT, but to pass along what they have learned to those eager to learn. Given the response at Friday’s concert, they have fully engaged with the UAB arts community and fulfilled that mission.

The performance revealed dancers that are just shy of technical perfection and visceral expressiveness, but with the right tools to move to the next level. “Virtues,” a work choreographed by Huntsville native Amy Hall Garner, was set to music by Karl Jenkins that was at once tribal and minimalist. The vibrant rhythmic pulse, though not always a match for the work’s fluid choreography, formed a backdrop that showcased the company’s energy, speed and agility. A silent solo, a romantic duet and a series of lifts, catches and turns presented few real challenges.

“We,” by Ailey Artistic Director Robert Battle, had more to say about the emotions of dance. Unfolding in slow motion, this stylized pas de deux danced by Tyler Brown and Gentry Isaiah George was embedded with a subtle, sultry ambiance, accompanied by a moody flugelhorn track by Sean Jones. The couple finally joining hands at work’s end was a magical moment.

Benoit-Swan Pouffer’s “Rusty” was more about dancers’ individual attitudes, a disjunct improv that faded in and out of sync. At times ethereal and otherworldly, its rehearsal-quality workings seemed more an exercise than a complete piece.

No performance with the name “Ailey” attached would be complete without “Revelations,” which, 54 years after its premiere, is still synonymous with the organization. This gospel-spiritual-blues classic, with its sky-reaching arms, bird-like arches and celebratory ambiance, can open doors for any dancer who has done it.

The company was at its best here, the dancers’ balance, patience, athleticism and pageantry combining for a riveting performance. Although the “Rocka My Soul” finale will always remain the work’s most-remembered number, Brown and George again impressed with their balance, control and weightlessness in “Fix Me Jesus.”