Ailey Dance

Ailey Dance
UC Cal Performances
March 30-April 2, 2022

50 Years of Ailey: Now Battle

Program A: Robert Battle 10th Anniversary Program

Since 1968 Cal Performances has proudly presented the Ailey Dance Company. Now under the direction of Robert Battle, the Company continues its remarkable performances and the sponsorship of the summer program for children, The Ailey Dance Camp.

The opening program, Program A celebrated 10 years of choreography by Robert Battle, now company director. The dancers are gorgeous, marvelously trained, technically brilliant. For this reviewer, the performance lacked emotional projection and emphasized technical achievement. Perhaps it is that the company is now very professional and/or has performed the works many, many times. It needs coaching.

Battle’s choreographic work enlists the accompaniment of many famous musicians. For “Ella” he used Ella Fitzgerald: for “For Four” Wynton Marsalis: for “ Takaheme” Sheila Chandra and for “Love Stories”, Stevie Wonder. For audiences who know and remember these musicians, it was a series of nostalgic treats. Except for “For Four” and “Love Stories”, the dances were duets, though “Takaheme” was a solo for Kanji Segawa. The work entitled “Unfold” was accompanied by the voice of Leontyne Price, a formidable opera star. However, the music was blasted at a volume that did no service to the singer. Lighting on several of these works was intense, bright and complex. For this reviewer, the dancers, though technically marvelous, were often lost in the production details. Dance that emphasizes technical skill often loses both dramatic and emotional impact. Battle’s works seem to be thus characterized.

The favorite work, “Revelations” which Ailey choreographed in 1960 is danced to a series of prayers, hymns and jubilant exultations. It celebrations the ‘baptism’ ceremony which is the “Revelation”. The work consists of nine hymns or ‘shouts’ that are performed by the group and various soloists. “I wanna be ready” danced by Vernard J. Gilmore is particularly poignant. It is a longing for purification. For this reviewer, it expresses a deep feeling for life, sin and death. Mr. Gilmore was beautiful, but alas, not emotionally moving. Years ago, an Ailey dancer, Dudley Williams, did that solo, leaving us in tears.

Program C introduced an entirely new work, “Busk” which has had much publicity and even access to a video and an interview with the choreographer, Aszure Barton. She tells us that “I made the work for the dancers.” So it seems, and although we are only able, in the stage production, to see some solo moments, “Busk” is largely a group work. Dressed in black, the dancers rock back and forth as if mourning and often are lined up together to emphasize their status. The stage was dimly lit, again, making the dance material evoking but not provoking.There is a staircase stage left; a solo figure runs to it; we don’t know why. Without program notes (which not everyone can access on the QR code previous to the show), we are left, again, fascinated but confused.

Program D was designated as “All Ailey”. We were able to see “Blues Suite”(1958), “Pas de Duke” (1976), “Cry” (1971) and again the closing celebration “Revelations” (1960). “Blues Suite” danced long and lovingly by the company and various soloists, is noted with the following lines: “Been down so long Getting up don’t cross my mind..When you see me laughing I’m laughing to keep from crying.” The nine sections of the work fitfully illustrate the many sorrowful “songs of love, despair and anger.”

To Duke Ellington’s music dancers Yannick Lebrun and Jacqueline Green offered a moving, although not very innovative series of moves in “Pas de Duke.” In “Cry,” dedicated “For all Black Women-everywhere, especially our mothers,” Constance Stamatiou was a strong soloist. And again, with great energy and skill, the dancers closed the program with “Revelations”, this time with an encore.

The Ailey Company is remarkable. It consists of people of different colors, all skilled and beautifully trained. Perhaps they tour too much; perhaps they grow tired. Ailey’s work is glorious … and it is difficult and demanding. For this reviewer, all performances and performers could cultivate and project the range of emotional and dramatic material inherent in the dances.