Arts dance review

An American icon: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater revisits Boston

Artistic Director Robert Battle premieres three pieces

8159 ghrai devore and belen pereyra in untitled america credit robert torres celebrity series of boston
Ghrai DeVore and Belen Pereyra perform in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Robert Torres

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is nothing short of an iconic piece of our country's history. Created in 1958 by New York choreographer Alvin Ailey and a company of African-American dancers, it has flourished into a world-renowned symbol of contemporary dance and the African-American cultural experience.  

Following the annual tradition, the Celebrity Series presented Alvin Ailey to Boston last Thursday. Under the guidance of artistic director Robert Battle, the company has introduced several exciting new pieces into its repertoire. “Deep,” “Walking Mad,” and “Ella” all made their Boston premiere last Thursday.

“Walking Mad” was a thrilling ensemble performance to the tune of “Boléro” by French composer Maurice Ravel. A playful piece, it repeated the simple melody without pause, slowly building from soft to thunderous over the course of 15 minutes. The maddeningly slow crescendo reflects the chaos of the dancers on stage and the inner turmoil of insanity. The only set piece was a simple wooden fence, perforated with hidden doors and hinges that become the playground of a dance that swung between hectic and melancholy.

There was even more energy in “Ella,” an acrobatic, up-tempo duet choreographed to the scat singing of jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. Michael Francis McBride and Renaldo Maurice, dressed in sequined tuxes, were light on their feet, combining for a sensational several minutes.

As the curtain lifted for “Revelations,” revealing the performers in a tight formation, their arms outstretched like wings in the iconic pose so often associated with Alvin Ailey — the audience cheered in recognition. Choreographed by Ailey himself, “Revelations” is a company standard — a soaring combination of traditional blues and gospel songs that play to the diverse history of the African-American people.

The finale, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” brought the audience to their feet, clapping and moving to the rhythmic spirit. A final encore, and the curtains closed for the fifth and final time that evening. Alvin Ailey's winning formula is combining the well-worn with the new, and the illustrious company again delivered to a receptive Boston audience.