Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater steps lively at the Fox

04.27.14
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

By Calvin Wilson

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has enjoyed critical and commercial success for more than half a century — with good reason.

Aside from the sheer artistry on display, the company has a way of connecting with audiences emotionally.

Still, critics in recent years have questioned whether success has led to complacency.

On Saturday evening at the Fox Theatre, the company performed with its trademark artistry.

But change was definitely in the air in the second of two Dance St. Louis concerts before an audience of more than 3,000.

Things got off to a rousing start with Kyle Abraham’s “Another Night,” one of the liveliest, hippest and most exhilarating pieces that the company has ever performed.

Set to the jazz standard “A Night in Tunisia,” the piece was a kaleidoscopic reverie of solos, duets and ensemble work — with just a hint of the naughtiness associated with the works of Bob Fosse. The company would be well-advised to further collaborate with Abraham, who was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant last year.

“Pas de Duke,” the first of two pieces featuring choreography by company founder Ailey and music by Duke Ellington, was in its own way just as charming.

Performed by Jacqueline Green and St. Louis native Antonio Douthit-Boyd, the piece achieved a seamless synthesis of jazzy swagger and balletic elegance. Green and Douthit-Boyd played off each other beautifully, but their solos were even better, exuding poise and attitude.

Slightly less impressive was the Ailey-Ellington collaboration “The River,” which was well-executed but lacked the headlong rush that made “Pas de Duke” such a joy.

“Revelations,” the company’s signature piece, was just what audiences have come to expect: an ode to the African-American experience, in all its tragedy and triumph, set to a gospel and blues soundtrack. A flurry of stage pictures captured the poignancy of that experience with the visceral charge of a scrapbook come to life.

The company was at a creative crossroads in 2011 when choreographer Robert Battle succeeded Judith Jamison as artistic director.

Three years later, it’s clear that Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is not clinging to the past, but embracing the future.