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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – Vibrant Energy!

above: Pictured: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers Akua Noni Parker and Michael Jackson, Jr. (credit: Andrew Eccles)
Pictured: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims.
(credit: Andrew Eccles)

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Cal Performances at UC Berkeley celebrate their 50-year association this year. Robert Battle, artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Matías Tarnopolsky, executive and artistic director of Cal Performances were both there on opening night to introduce the annual residency of a week of Ailey performances at Zellerbach Hall (including residency activities on the UC Berkeley campus, including a flash mob, community dance workshops, classes and the summer Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp for young people at Cal Performances). 

The Ailey company presents three different programs, featuring three West Coast premieres this season. Opening the residency on April 10th, 2018 is Program A: Stack-Up, Members Don’t Get Weary, and Revelations. While each piece is very different in choreography, music and design, what they have in common is their vibrant energy and quality! 

Stack-Up (1982) choreographed by Talley Beatty, restaged by Masazumi Chaya is a non stop jazzy piece about urban life in Los Angeles. It’s street and human with a gritty storyline set to music by various artists including Earth, Wind & Fire and Grover Washington, Jr. Soloists Yannick Lebrun, Jamar Roberts and Constance Stamatiou are outstanding, supported by fourteen excellent dancers. The choreography is fascinating, partners and groups cross the stage or populate the space as if part of an abstract canvas, with a variety of dynamic movement, all well performed. Visually the design is exciting, colorful costumes – including satin shirts and crushed velvet pants designed by Carol Vollet Kingston, and the dramatic backdrop of the moody underworld of the city is adapted from a painting by Romare Bearden, with equally moody lighting design by Chennault Spence – plus a glitter ball!

The next piece is a West Coast Premiere, Members Don’t Get Weary (2017) choreographed by company member Jamar Roberts, and set to music by John Coltrane. Modern choreography with beautiful expansive reaching out movement, turns and kneeling phrases to a mean saxophone explores the elements of blues and it’s music. Blue lighting and scenic design by Brandon Stirling Baker, and a variety of blue costumes by Roberts complete the vivid visceral journey. It’s pensive, electric and fresh, with athletic emotive dance in the ensemble pieces, and a female solo with impressive lithe extensions, so vulnerable and compelling. Pulsating rhythmic music of piano and bass suggest an air of excitement. This piece has so many wonderful moments – choreography, music and dance in the duets, trios and quartets with deep leaning back positions, precise footwork, energetic sweeping movement coming from within. Every dancer distinguishes herself or himself in the ever-changing combinations, and the ensemble pieces are dynamite! These ten dancers listen to each other, emote, breathe and create a wondrous piece of art!

Revelations (1960) closes the evening. Choreographed by Alvin Ailey, to celebrate the African American experience, set to several selections from traditional music, it is a glorious experience! Performed beautifully by the Ailey Company dancers, décor and costumes by Ves Harper and lighting by Nicola Cernoitch – it’s captivating and uplifting – and very well received by the audience.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater residency is not to be missed!

Highlights of the partnership of these two organizations include the 169 pieces the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has performed in repertory at Cal Performances with the work of more than 72 choreographers represented (such as Bill T. Jones, Christopher Wheeldon, Judith Jamison, Lar Lubovitch, Maurice Béjart, Paul Taylor, TwylaTharp and Robert Moses) and a co-commission of Awakening by Robert Battle in 2011, it’s world premiere in New York City, and presented in Berkeley in 2016.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater residency is part of the Cal Performances 2017-18 Berkeley RADICAL Joining Generations strand, which spotlights “the work of four generations of trailblazing African-American choreographers whose creative output explicitly and intentionally addresses issues of history, race, and personal identity.”

Program B: Mass, Ella, Shelter, The Hunt, Revelations.

Program C: Victoria, The Golden Section, Ella, Revelations.

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
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About the Author

Jo TomalinOriginally from England Jo Tomalin is currently based in San Francisco, where she reviews Theatre & Dance for & - she works in the performing arts as a freelance movement & voice specialist, director + actor. She is also Professor in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University, teaching Movement for Actors, Voice for Actors, Storytelling, Business of Acting, Acting and directs MainStage plays. Jo's first play "Jessica" which she also directed was produced at the Fringe of Marin - a One Act New Play Festival. Jo Tomalin studied Classical Acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London; and holds a teacher's diploma (ATCL) in Voice and Acting from Trinity College of Dramatic Art, London. She studied Classical Ballet for 12 years; Graduated from London University's Laban Centre Teaching Credential program in Modern Dance, Art of Movement & Choreography; Completed the two year professional training course at the renowned acting school "Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq" Paris, France, where she also completed the Laboratoire du Mouvement (LEM) scenography and movement course. Jo also holds a Master of Science degree in Educational Technology from Boise State University and a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University, MN.View all posts by Jo Tomalin →