Alvin Ailey


Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dance recital shot 2015 at the David H. Koch Theater (at Lincoln Center) in New York.  Ailey (1931-1989) started his company long ago as a home for black artists. Eventually, he dropped the all-black standard to include dancers and choreographers of all races. Still, as you can see from the artwork above, AAADT remains mostly a black operation, and it is probably the leading such dance group in the world.  The program contains the following pieces:

  • Chroma, choreographed by Wayne McGregor to a score by Jack White and Jody Talbot. Chroma has nothing to do with black experience. Dancers are Jeroboam Bozeman, Sean Aaron Carmon, Sarah Daley, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, Vernard J. Gilmore, Yannick Lebrun, Rachel McLaren, Akua Noni Parker, and Linda Celeste Sims. By leading off with this, the AAADT claims that they can take on any modern dance assignment out there.

  • Grace, choreographed by Ronald K. Brown to music by Duke Ellington. Brown is black, and his work is rooted in modern, African, and urban styles. Dancers are Linda Celeste Sims, Demetia Hopkins-Greene, Matthew Rushing, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, Vernard J. Gilmore, Grenn Allen Sims, Daniel Harder, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, Belen Pereya, Hope Boykin, and Rachael McLaren. Grace is, I think, considered a dance icon of the American black experience.

  • Takademe, choreographed by Robert Battle to music by Sheila Chandra. Battle is black and currently the leader of the AAADT. Apparently nobody knows or cares what "takademe" means other than, perhaps, "a dance telling a story." Performed by Jamar Roberts. It's a frantic solo included, I suspect, as a kind of dance joke analogous to a scherzo moment in a piece of classical music.

  • Revelations choreographed by Alvin Ailey to traditional black gospel music. Performed by the Company and with star roles by Marcus Jarrell Willis, Hope Boykin, Jacqueline Green, Linda Celeste Sims, Glenn Allen Sims, Michael Francis McBride, Megan Jakel, Marcus Jarrell Willis, Yannick Lebrun, Rachael McLaren, Matthew Rushing, Alicia Graf Mack, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, Jamar Roberts, and Kirven Douthit-Boyd. This is considered Ailey's most profound work.

It appears all the music for the dances was prerecorded. Nothing is said on the keepcase or in the booklet about who plays anything. Directed for TV by Matthew Diamond; produced by Andrew Carl Wilk. Released 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

Finally we are getting something in HDVD from the New York dance scene! Dance in the Big Apple can get confusing. This was shot in the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. But the AAADT should not be confused with the American Ballet Theater (or ABT), that snooty group that considers itself the "American National Ballet Company" and which performs in the Metropolitan Opera building and at the Koch Theater, both at Lincoln Center. Nor should the AAADT be confused with the New York City Ballet, which has its permanent home in the Koch Theater building. The New York City Ballet is the company originally started by George Balanchine.

The AAADT has its home in the New York City Center, an older building located some distance away from Lincoln Center and near Carnegie Hall. Subject title is branded under the name "Lincoln Center at the Movies" or "Lincoln Center MOVIES." The promoters show their titles in movies houses around the US in a manner similar to the Met opera productions that have been so successful. Then the movie version can be made into an HDVD as an additional profit center. Some (but not all) of the shows promoted this way were actually performed and filmed at Lincoln Center.


McGregor is a white artist who works mostly at the Royal Opera Ballet (ROB). Chroma, scary hard, is one of the most talked-about short dance works to come out in recent years, and we have a brilliant recording of it already by stars of the Royal Ballet.

So how do the AA dancers compete in Chroma with the guys and gals of the ROB (the best in the world in this piece)? The AA roots are in modern, African folk, and jazz. AA dancers don't have a full classical background (Swan Lake, Giselle, Jewels, etc.). They lack the full range of movement, dazzling quickness, and abstract acting skills of the ROB dancers. So Chroma was restaged for AA by Antoine Vereecken to ease matters a bit.

First below is a shot of ROB stars (Ed Watson and Mara Galeazzi) in an tricky (and almost salacious) move in Chroma, Scene 1:

Vereecken with AA makes this move easier (and more modest) as we see next below:

From Chroma, Scene 2, Tamara Rojo at the ROB does a spectacular airborne split:

Next below we see the best AA can do at this point:

The dancers at the ROB are small, light, limber, and sophisticated. The dancers at AA tend are tall, strong, modest, and responsible. The AA men all look like Olympic track-and-field stars or even American football players who run the ball or catch 50-yard passes. I preferred the AA men to those in the ROB in the male trio at Chroma, Scene 4. Sorry, they stay on the move and this is the best picture I could get:

And below is a shot from Scene 5 where the AA dancers sneak some soul into the mix---something McGregor doesn't know anything about:

I also preferred the Vereecken finale (Scene 7) to the chaotic McGregor original. Vereecken reorganizes things and shows more unison dancing than McGregor:

I was surprised to see how well the AA dancers did and I scored them overall with a B to an A for the ROB. But, alas, Lucy Carter's lighting for the AA show was way too dark too often. The lighting was probably OK for the theater audience, but TV Matthew Diamond and his cameramen couldn't cope. Finally, the music recording for Chroma sounds smashing when played by the Royal Ballet Orchestra in London, but it sounds smashed when played by the unknown forces for the New York show. So the best grade I could give AA for Chroma would be a B-. But that's something the AA folks can be proud of when you consider how different their background is from the Royal Ballet.

The hard part is over. Now, if you have enough life in you to tap your feet, read on: you have to get this HDVD for the incredibly vibrant and sexy dancing that fills the rest of this title! The next 4 screenshots are from Grace, my favorite from the whole disc:

Here's a shot from Takademe, a short, weird solo:

The longest piece is Revelations, the AA signature piece celebrating 10 Gospel songs with dancing that is part inspirational and always sensational. The next 2 shots are from "I Been 'Buked" (Rebuked):

"Fix me, Jesus":

"Wade in the Water":

"Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham":

The last 3 pieces are AA standards, and the disc could have been titled "Best of Alvin Ailey." The music is most enjoyable. The lighting is fine even when the stage is dark, and the videography is always on target. Grade time: I start with an A+ and make a deduction for the Chroma experiment to yield a blended A-. (Considering the AA classic pieces only, I would give this an A or A+).

PS.  "Lincoln Center at the Movies" (LCatM) is a new resource. LCatM promoters seek content that (1) has some (perhaps slight) connection the Lincoln Center in Manhattan and (2) can be shown in movie houses around the United States and maybe other countries. An HDVD would be an adjunct profit center. (This business model was invented, of course, by Peter Gelb at the Met.) Good luck LCatM! I hope you can find enough quality content to make your idea work for everybody.

PS2. There are many very short clips on YouTube about subject title, but none that I liked. The YouTube clip below well depicts the AA Chroma show even though the performance seen in the HDVD, with a least one cast change, is even better: