Pick! ASR Theater ~~ Ailey Dancers Bookend New Show with 2 Perfect, Decades-Old Pieces

By Woody Weingarten

It could have been difficult to keep Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet phrases, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” from echoing in your brain while exiting Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley.

Your love would been aimed not at one human being but the entire Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which had just bookended its new Cal Performances show with two old pieces that perfectly merged modern dance with classical movements, “Night Creature” (the opener) and “Revelations” (the closer).

…impossible to leave the hall without a smile on your face…

The former was a tour de force initially choreographed by Ailey in 1974 to a complex but marvelous big-band jazz composition by Duke Ellington. Its music ranged from the brassiest of brass to violins as sweet as Godiva chocolate, with dancers’ skills shining via high-steppin’ moves that might have been lifted from a hot Harlem nightspot and spirited twirling across the stage from here to perpetuity.

Sarah Daley-Perdomo, a substitute soloist, was flawless in all three movements of Masazumi Chaya’s restaging, coupled with Michael Jackson Jr. in two of them.

“Revelations” is, of course, Ailey’s signature work. It appears as the finale of many of the troupe’s programs and remains as striking today as when first presented in 1960.

Loud applause and shrieks of approval greeted the dancers as the curtain rose for its 10-tune, Gospel-loaded production, before the company’s first barefooted movements, revealing that much of the audience had seen the piece multiple times before. Each recognizable segment then drew additional hand clapping.

Especially outstanding were the grace inherent in “Fix Me Jesus”, a duet, and the coupled-off joy of the entire company in “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”

Sandwiched between the first and last dance-concert segments were “Cry,” a masterful solo performance by Jacquelin Harris, and “For Four,” the only piece on the program not choreographed by Ailey.

“Cry,” a 1971 creation dedicated to “Black women everywhere — especially our mothers,” had originally been a birthday present to the choreographer’s mother. The three-parter includes jarring music by Alice Coltrane as well as Laura Nyro’s “Been on a Train,” which details, mournfully, the anguish of drug addiction. “Cry,” too, was restaged by Chaya.

“For Four,” named because it showcases two couples, was the weakest of all the entries — and it wasn’t weak at all. Still, its choreography by Robert Battle and staging by Elisa Clark paled compared to Ailey’s work, despite it providing pleasure through music by Wynton Marsalis and eye-catching costuming of removable tux jackets, black suspenders and white shirts.

Overall, dance enthusiasts were treated to sequences that evoked bliss and sadness, sensuality and sexuality, nonchalance and eloquence, passion and coolness, simplicity and razzle-dazzle — plus fantastic lighting effects, useful projections onto a rear screen, and a dancer’s ponytail hair extensions playfully bouncing with every twist of her head and body.

Everything, of course, came with splashes of virtuosity, which made it almost impossible to leave the hall without a smile on your face.

Earlier Zellerbach Hall performances of the troupe this month introduced two new dances, “Are You in Your Feelings?” — choreographed by Kyle Abraham to a soul, hip-hop, and rhythm ‘n’ blues mixtape, and “In a Sentimental Mood,” an intimate duet by Jamar Roberts (and revisited Twyla Tharp’s “Roy’s Joys,” Paul Taylor’s “Duet,” and a 1986 Ailey tribute to Nelson Mandela, “Survivors”).

Final 2022-23 Cal Performances events at Zellerbach Hall include George Hinchliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain on April 26; Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Sower,” a “congregational opera” May 5 and 6; and a recital by soprano Nina Stemme on May 7. Information: 510-642-9988 or https://calperformances.org


ASR Senior Contributor Woody Weingarten has decades of experience writing arts and entertainment reviews and features. A member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle,  he is the  author of three books, The Roving I; Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmatesand Rollercoaster: How a Man Can Survive His Partner’s Breast Cancer. Contact: voodee@sbcglobal.net or https://woodyweingarten.com or http://www.vitalitypress.com/

ProductionAlvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Producing CompanyAlvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Production DatesThrough Apr 16th
Production Address101 Zellerbach Hall Spc 4800, at UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-4800
Telephone(510) 642 9988
Tickets$42 – $116
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!