Dance Review: LAZARUS & REVELATIONS (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at The Chandler)

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by Tony Frankel on April 12, 2022

in Dance,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Bringing with them three complete programs of dazzling dance, this 2022 edition showcases Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s (AAADT) vital verve, reminding audiences why they retain a love affair with this American institution. An unprecedented two-week, three-program showcase plays through April 10, 2022.

Never, and I mean never, in all the dance programs I’ve attended have I heard an audience so audibly aroused as I did at yesterday’s program beginning with the company’s first two-act ballet, “Lazarus,” at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Commissioned by AAADT for its 60th Anniversary in 2018, this impassioned, aggressive work from Rennie Harris is a straggling array that hammers home the racial injustices that have, and continue to plague America. This is also a salute to Ailey, who knew these inequities firsthand when he founded the company in 1958 (he grew up in a segregated Texas). The soundtrack produced by Darrin Ross, with his original music, is equally sprawling, with artists Nina Simone, Terrence Trent D’Arby, Michael Kiwanuka, and Odetta, alongside spoken text — written, adapted and co-performed by Harris with Wadud Ahmad and the great Alvin Ailey himself.

The first act is filled with images of atrocities and pain, accompanied by flashes of light and the sound of a beating heart. In extremely low light from the wings, images of the ensemble fleeing, crawling, flinching, and holding their arms up to God sear the memory. But none stays with me as much as a group swaying in the wind after being lynched. This is a poetic work, and very different from what the company has previously presented. Not always uplifting, I felt the spirit of the dance that took me on a journey thru time.

Act Two offers restorative atonement in the form of gorgeous, pure-dance ensemble works. Not only did the dancers abdicate chains of the past, but the audience, too, exploded with applause and screams — clearly aching for unbridled joy in these wearying times. Bouncing hippity-hops, scampering jumps, kicks that matched the dancers’ enthusiasm, and slap-happy gestures made the crowd ecstatic — an entirely different fugue to the slowness in the first act. (Remember that Jesus restored Lazarus to life four days after his death.) There is a teaser ending in which dancers bow, but that is a lead-in to a powerful backlit image on the stage representing Mr. Ailey himself.

Finally, and richly welcomed by the first-night crowd, Alvin Ailey’s 1960 beloved masterpiece “Revelations” delivers a Terpsichorean testament to ten still-stirring spirituals. This suite of spirituality ranges from the literal hell-raising of “Sinner Man” to the baptismal purification of “Wade in the Water,” with a parasol arcing over the action and ribbons suggesting the waters of the Jordan River while parishioners gleam in bright white. The final scene, hilariously busy with fluttering fans waved by gossipy church ladies, culminates in the contagious joy of “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” generously repeated in the curtain call. “Take Me to the Water” indeed.

Side by side, “Revelations” and “Lazarus” converse about despair and hope, past and future, tradition and innovation. And, of course, the indomitable spirit Alvin Ailey carried. By supporting the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, you not only get to be entertained but help to ensure that Ailey’s name and the genius associated with it will never be forgotten. Thus, it is fitting that “Revelations” ends each of the various programs at every performance. The suite, a tribute to African American heritage, fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul. In viewing it, we are allowed to grieve for Ailey’s passing over three decades ago from AIDS, while celebrating the fact that this art form keeps his name alive. When you support this company, you sustain the arts in America and inspire future choreographers who will, no doubt, deliver joy back to us and to generations to come.

photos by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
135 N. Grand Avenue
for tickets, call (213) 972-0711 or visit Music Center
Robert Battle 10th Anniversary Program
Wednesday, April 6, 2022, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday April 9, 2022, at 2:00 p.m.
All Ailey Program
Thursday, April 7, 2022, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday April 9, 2022, at 7:30 p.m.
Lazarus Program
Friday, April 8, 2022, at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday April 10, 2022, at 2:00 p.m.

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