Few cultural events will leave both white octogenarians and 7-year-old black kids whooping and gasping in awe. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, year after year, creates this unlikely alchemy.
Friday night’s opening to a weekend engagement at the Paramount Theatre showcased the New York-based company in classic form. The power and humanity that have become Ailey hallmarks were evident in “The River,” as was the emotion that has made “Revelations” an American classic.
One quality, however, which sometimes goes unremarked in Ailey performances, is humor. Playfulness carries “D-Man in the Waters,” choreographed by Bill T. Jones, introduced by this epigraph: “In a dream you saw a way to survive and you were full of joy.” Fittingly, the piece features dancers waving hello, ambling in groups of too-cool teens and communicating with arm gestures that viewers of a certain generation will remember from the television show “Zoom.”
“Revelations,” Ailey’s signature work inspired by gospel and the African-American experience, isn’t humorous so much as electric. An all-male trio performing before a projected backdrop of flames in the “Sinner Man” passage created such a noticeable energy shift that the audience began whooping and clapping, as if at a rock concert. This is a company that takes ballet and makes it modern, accessible, emotional.
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Ailey is also a company frequently criticized for its mantra-like adherence to a predictable repertoire. But with tradition comes consistency. I could quibble with a foot not completely extended, or chemistry that seemed slightly off. But by show’s end, the dancers had come together and viewers were on their feet, roaring with appreciation.
Saturday evening’s performances will include the newer work “Minus 16,” dedicated to former Ailey dancer Mari Kajiwara, who died of cancer in 2001; as well as “Grace,” from 1999, and the perennial “Revelations.” Sunday’s matinee features “The River, “ “D-Man” and “Revelations.”
Free of the bloodless, academic tone that so often puts off new viewers of dance, Ailey welcomes both neophytes and aficionados. It does a heart good to see Seattlites of every age and color clapping along to “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.” Ailey dancers give that love back. They don’t present their talent so much as offer it as a point of communion.
“I just keep thinking of one word – vibrant!” exclaimed an older woman in the audience who had seen the company on television, but never live. It’s safe to say that she will be back.
Claudia Rowe: email@example.com or 206-464-2531