Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater 

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Two of my favorite works from the Ailey repertory illuminate the troupe's emotional range. Hymn, a 1993 piece by current artistic director Judith Jamison, represents the celebratory, upbeat end of the spectrum. Practically a promo for the company, it's set mostly to a text written and performed by Anna Deavere Smith--a "libretto" that consists of interviews with Ailey, Jamison, and former and current dancers. When I saw the piece in 1994 I was offended at first by all the preaching, bald statements, and rambling talk. But gradually the dancers' impassioned performances won me over, as did their monologues, which ranged from a reminiscence about a black dress to a confession about the anguish caused by the search for perfection. Ultimately I fell in love with all the dancers that day--and carried their love of dance out of the theater with me. At the other end of the spectrum is Ulysses Dove's 1989 Episodes, a gritty, rude, emotionally devastating look at relations between the sexes. This piece for four women and nine men, set to Robert Ruggieri's percussive score, exposes women's sexual vulnerability. Or at least that's how I saw it in 1991, when I said that it wasn't a nice dance or even a fun dance but that it packed a hell of a punch. I wasn't able to preview the two new pieces on these programs, which have received mixed reviews (New York magazine critic Tobi Tobias wrote, "I doubt that any of these works will last long in the repertory; there's no reason why they should"), but Alonzo King's Heart Song is a piece for 17 dancers set to North African music and Robert Battle's quartet Juba is said to be a modern-day Rite of Spring. On the bill Thursday and Sunday are Episodes, Hymn, and Ailey's 1960 classic, Revelations. On Friday and at the Saturday matinee, excerpts from Ailey's Memoria, Night Creature, Phases, Opus McShann, A Song for You, For Bird--With Love, Hidden Rites, and Cry, plus Revelations. And on Saturday evening, Heart Song, Juba, Elisa Monte's duet Treading, and Revelations. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 312-902-1500; 312-922-2110, ext. 4, for groups of ten or more. Through May 23: Thursday, 7:30 PM; Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $22-$57. Note: One free ticket for a child under 18 is available for each paid adult ticket to the Saturday matinee.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrew Eccles.

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