June 10 to 21, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater explodes onstage at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for its annual two-week summer season with a program jam-packed with premiers, revivals, favorites and, of course, Ailey’s masterpiece “Revelations,” all performed by an exquisitely talented and versatile troupe of terrific dancers.
Recently, with opening night just days away, Artistic Director Robert Battle and Associate Director Masazumi Chaya perched on stools in a spacious studio in the company’s Midtown headquarters, conducting a rehearsal of one of the season’s premiers, Battle’s own “No Longer Silent.”
Inspired by the percussive score and tragic story of Czech-Jewish composer Erwin Schulhoff, who died while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Battle says, “When I first heard it, the music felt to me like a foreshadowing of the war.” Yet, while the work’s musical inspiration and expressionistic movement evoke a bygone era, the images of flight and fatigue, chaos and unity and hatred’s tragic consequences are movingly relevant at a time when demonstrators take to the streets insisting that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘All Lives Matter.’”
As variety is a hallmark of the AAADT, as soon as the rehearsal of “No Longer Silent” ends, the dancers shift gears and focus on an edgy new work by hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris called “Exodus.” Set to gospel and house music with poetic narration, “Exodus” explores the idea of shedding one’s ignorance and conformity to achieve enlightenment. Harris’ trademark mixture of hip-hop and modern dance creates a captivating work that is fun to watch.
Another dance that promises to light up the Lincoln Center stage this season, Battle says, is the revival of Talley Beatty’s “Toccata,” which is actually a stand-alone jazz-infused excerpt of Beatty’s work “Come and Get the Beauty of It Hot.” “I have long been struck by Talley Beatty’s genius, and Chaya and I have been discussing bringing this work back for quite sometime. Now, we finally figured out a time when it could be done.”
Battle adds that “because Beatty’s movement is right on the edge of impossible, it challenges dancers and delights audiences with that street-wise, frenetic energy that, even now, 55 years after it was created, does not feel dated.”
Other works that promise to captivate Ailey audiences this season include Christopher Wheeldon’s dreamlike “After the Rain Pas de Deux”; Matthew Rushing’s tribute to the woman Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the queen of American folk music,” “ODETTA”; Jacqulyn Buglisi’s mesmerizing “Suspended Women”; Hofesh Schecter’s testosterone-infused “Uprising”; Wayne McGregor’s stunning “Chroma”; the battle-scared lovers in Ulysses Dove’s “Bad Blood”; Ron Brown’s spiritually transcendent “Grace”; and Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamision’s sensual duet “A Case of You.”
The AAADT sails into Lincoln Center on the wings of Battle’s announcement that it will be followed by two major engagements highlighting the role it assumed in Ailey’s lifetime, America’s
cultural ambassador. First, from July 7 to Aug. 1, it visits Paris for the “Les Etes de la Danse” international dance festival. Then there is an historic return to South Africa from Sept. 3 to 20 with performances in Johannesburg and Cape Town and a host of educational activities in area schools, communities and townships.
From Lincoln Center on, each engagement reflects Battle’s firm determination to preserve Ailey’s legacy. “Alvin Ailey was posthumously awarded the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian honor,” said Battle. “And 25 years after his passing, the power of his enduring legacy continues to extend from New York to far-reaching international tours and memorable visits to communities around the globe.” After all, he adds, “Mr. Ailey said it so well: ‘Dance came from the people and should always be delivered to the people.” The Lincoln Center summer season promises to do that with a bang.