Alvin Ailey II at Shryock Auditorium was a rare treat for dance lovers in Carbondale, Illinois. The company inspired a delighted audience in their superb renditions of solo and group dances, in their explorations of the possibilities of movement, and in their exuberant spirit.
I like to view dance as art in motion, like a painting that moves. Dance is intuitive, nonverbal, and instinctive. Some people shy away from dance performances, saying they don’t understand. What’s to understand? Just watch, and feel.
The first dance, “Shards,” was a long dance performed by the whole company. The music was new-ageish, the kind of thing people use as a background for meditation. It contained little bursts of melody that didn’t form a whole or build to a logical conclusion, just fell into different pieces. Against this background, the dancers displayed a variety of moods and moves.
After an intermission, there were solos: “Takademe,” choreographed for three dancers, but it was announced that because of an injury, this would be a solo. Watching the one male dancer with his fast and furious steps was entrancing. One wondered what would have transpired onstage with two more dancers mixing it up with him.
The next solo, “Splendid Isolation II: The Calling,” was in a way a duet. The curtain opened on the dancer in a long white dress with a skirt that fanned out around her, covering two-thirds of the stage. My first thought was, she won’t be able to move; maybe she’ll manage some turns of the head and flutters of the arms. But incredibly, the dress became part of the dance. As she twirled slowly, the dancer closed the skirt closer around her, and leaned into it, and over it. I’ve never seen anything quite like that dance.
After that, “Doscongio” was danced to Chopin’s Sonata for Piano and Cello in G Minor. The dancer slipped between graceful motions and ordinary gestures that we see every day, in his exploration of self. Like all of the dancers, this one expressed deep and varied human emotions without saying a word. What magic!
After another intermission came the classic and well-loved “Revelations,” choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1960, accompanied by traditional spirituals, some sweet and sad, some joyful, all deeply affecting. Songs like “Fix Me, Jesus” and “I Wanna Be Ready” had the audience sitting in rapt silence, then bursting into wild applause at the end. “Wade in the Water,” with ribbons of fabric as water, and the dancers’ limbs as liquid as waves, is an American classic, and last night it was clear why. The very last song in the sequence, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” had the entire audience on their feet clapping as the dancers, dressed in yellow “Sunday-go-to-meetin'” clothes, seemed possessed by the joy of their dancing and the spirit of the song.
There were a lot of children in the audience. At one intermission, I stood behind a little girl of four or five, all dressed up and with hair braided and beaded. I asked her, “Do you like the show?” She looked at me and. answered, “Yes,” as in “Of course. Who wouldn’t?” Another little girl, leaving with her mother, was heard to say in a surprised way, “I thought it was going to be boring, just a bunch of ballet dancers.”
Well, it was a bunch of ballet dancers-but what a bunch! Alvin Ailey II rocked Shryock Auditorium in Carbondale last night, and I know I wasn’t alone in loving every minute!
For more information, see the Alvin Ailey website.