Giant Steps

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater showcases the 50th anniversary of Ailey's landmark 'Revelations.'

Photo: Celebrating works such as 'Anointed' and 'Revelations' - choreographed by the artist himself - the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed at Zellerbach Auditorium this Sunday.
Lara Brucker/Senior Staff
Celebrating works such as 'Anointed' and 'Revelations' - choreographed by the artist himself - the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed at Zellerbach Auditorium this Sunday.

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On first glance, the crowd outside of Zellerbach Auditorium on Sunday afternoon seemed exceptionally energetic - no grumbling children being dragged to a show by their parents or uninterested students simply trying to complete an extra credit assignment. All of these people came ready to enjoy the annual Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater show put on by Cal Performances. Drawing on a wide array of modern dance styles, the company celebrated the 50th anniversary of founder Alvin Ailey's classic "Revelations" with a moving reflection on the history and experiences of its own choreographers.

Sunday also marked the company's final Berkeley showcase under the critically-acclaimed artistic direction of Judith Jamison. A desire to honor their long-time collaborator formed an emotional current that manifested itself in details as minute as an outstretched arm or a single gaze into the audience. The dancers' incredible commitment to the performance was well-received, eliciting multiple standing ovations and spontaneous applause.

The company chose to perform two pieces that honor Jamison's contributions to their success. Jamison is a central character in both "Anointed" and "Cry," choreographed by Christopher L. Huggins and Ailey, respectively. The pieces illustrate not only her influence on the dance world, but also the impact that dance has made on her life. When juxtaposed, they highlight the contrast in style between the older and newer generations of choreographers. Huggins' work, only one year old, employed an almost orchestral arrangement of the dancers; Ailey's relied on a more abstract solo performance.

Recurring throughout the afternoon was a theme of evolution of masculine and feminine nature. "Cry" embodied the experience of African American females, and "The Hunt" sought to draw a parallel between Spartan war tradition and modern sports culture. The dancer in "Cry" resembled a caged animal in the beginning, looking battered and downtrodden but never losing that wild spark in her eye. Yet by the end of the performance she was gallivanting around stage in sheer ecstasy, a transformation that perhaps serves as a metaphor for both the enactment of civil and women's rights.

"The Hunt," choreographed by Artistic Director Designate Robert Battle, traded historical progression for an unwavering fighting spirit. This resulted in a powerful, testosterone-filled ride as the dancers engaged in "battle," or rhythmic clapping and grunting - a possible reference to the cheers practiced by sports fans on game days. That the men do not change at all indicates that their infatuation with violence and competition is part of their nature. The success of "The Hunt" and "Anointed" suggests that, despite Jamison's departure, the future is still bright for the Ailey company.

Ailey's "Revelations" united the show's varying perspectives on history, gender and human nature with a timeless illustration of the human experience. It opened with a cluster of dancers reaching to the sky as the words, "There is trouble all over this world," were repeated, kicking off an enthralling journey of redemption and self-discovery. In pieces like this, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater distinguishes itself from other dance companies by going beyond a simple showcase of talent. It is their effort to craft something that speaks to a diverse group of people that has brought them so much success.

Contact Erin at [email protected]

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