Revelations in dance

Revelations in dance

The Alvin Ailey dance troup prepares to take the city by storm.

Published: June 29, 2011 (Issue # 1663)

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A scene from ‘Revelations,’ which has been described as the most popular modern dance piece of all time.

One of the world’s most celebrated modern dance troupes, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, comes to St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater next week, bringing with it two programs centered around and dedicated to “Revelations,” a work choreographed by company founder Alvin Ailey half a century ago that has gone on to become, according to Dance Magazine, “the most popular modern dance piece of all time.”

St. Petersburg is the third stop on a two-month-long tour by the company that opened last week in Oslo before going to Moscow. After its local performances, the troupe will continue on to Zurich, Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt and Hamburg.

The Alvin Ailey troupe’s Russian appearances take place under the auspices of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, created the year before last by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev to expand cooperation between the two countries over a broad range of activities, including the arts. The appearances also serve to launch a new program titled “American Seasons in Russia,” which, with both private sponsorship and support from the U.S. Department of State and the Russian Culture Ministry, is scheduled to acquaint the Russian public with various forms of contemporary American art.

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Robert Battle’s solo work ‘In/Side’ will be performed on Tuesday evening.

Alvin Ailey, born in Texas in 1931, emerged from a childhood of dire poverty to become one of the most influential figures in the development of dance during the second half of the 20th century. Dance training in Hollywood led Ailey to appearances on the Broadway stage and, in 1958, to the formation of his own dance company. At first made up entirely of African-American dancers, it began in 1963 to reach out to those of other origins, Ailey noting at the time that he had “met some incredible dancers of other colors who could cut the work.” It has remained integrated ever since.

Integrated or not, the Alvin Ailey company has from the very beginning remained focused on expressing the African-American experience in dance, transferring that experience to the stage in a manner characterized by enormous energy and a unique style that seems always to remain faithful to the sources from which it is drawn.

“Revelations,” on which the current tour is focused, first appeared in 1960 and amounted to a then radical combination of modern dance and traditional African-American gospel music. In it, Ailey sought to depict his experiences growing up in the segregated South of the 1930s. Judith Jamison, director of the company since Ailey’s death in 1989, sees “Revelations” as a work of “groundbreaking vision” and “a profound manifestation of how dance can celebrate the human spirit and impact our hearts and minds.”

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At each performance, “Revelations” will be preceded by a short documentary film describing its inspiration and significance, as well as presenting historic performance clips and rare interviews with Ailey himself.

In addition to “Revelations,” Monday’s program, due to be repeated on Wednesday, includes another of Ailey’s most famous creations, “Cry,” a three-part solo work created in 1971 as a birthday present for the choreographer’s mother, that explores the trials, tribulations and eventual triumphs of “black women everywhere.” Also on the program are “The Hunt,” a work by long-time Alvin Ailey dancer — and soon to become company director — Robert Battle for six men intended to “reveal the predatory side of human nature and the primitive thrill of the hunt” and set to a thundering percussion soundtrack by New York’s Les Tambours du Bronx; and “Anointed,” a brand-new creation by former company member Christopher L. Huggins to the music of Moby and Sean Clements.

Tuesday’s program also culminates in “Revelations,” but is preceded by “Festa Barocca” and “In/Side,” a recent solo work by Battle, set to the music of Nina Simone and described as a “visceral cry of pure physicality.”

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater plays 7 p.m. Monday to Wednesday at the Mariinsky Theater, Teatralnaya Ploshchad. Metro Sadovaya/Sennaya Ploshchad. Tel. 326 4141.

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