A 2011 piece about people with HIV shared the bill with the troupe's gospel-set 1960 classic.
Mother Nature put on a show Tuesday night, but she had competition inside the Orpheum Theatre from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the final offering of the 2011-12 Northrop Dance season. The New York-based troupe, founded in 1958, is renowned for its sublime dancers, and they didn't disappoint. The evening also confirmed that recently named Artistic Director Robert Battle (only the third in the company's history) is prepared to honor legacy while seeking out choreographic innovation.
If "Home" (2011), created by Rennie Harris, is any indication, the ensemble has a bright future. The work, which draws upon the stories of people living with HIV and the club scenes where many seek solace, blended hip-hop and contemporary dance into episodic experiences. Movement was slowed down, methodically taken apart, and then revved up into real time again -- as if some unseen DJ were controlling the spatial dimensions. A fierce communal spirit built toward ecstatic moments enhanced by Stephen Arnold's after-hours-inspired lighting design. When they danced together, the 14 performers embraced life with immediacy -- they were survivors. Even without specificity, we came to know the personal experiences that shaped this piece.
Asserting a director's prerogative, Battle put two of his works on the program. "Takademe," from 1999, was the better of the pair. Samuel Lee Roberts performed the brief but electric solo to Indian Kathak rhythms, his fluent body actively conversing with Sheila Chandra's recorded voice. Each vocal inflection was met with corresponding physical inflection. "The Hunt" (2001), on the other hand, missed its mark. Inspired by martial arts, the piece followed a ritualistic structure. But as the pulsing movement progressed, the urgent energy of the group of six male dancers dissipated. Their intent was more focused on masculine bluster than karmic balance.
The evening also included Joyce Trisler's ethereal solo "Journey" (1958), interpreted by Sarah Daley with pure grace, plus "Revelations" (1960), Ailey's masterpiece set to spirituals and gospel songs. Memorable sections included a gorgeous duet for Briana Reed and Jermaine Terry that explored slow soulful sensuality, as well as Guillermo Asca's generous solo framed by full-body spirals into the floor. A trio to "Sinner Man" had the dancers leaping through imaginary hellfire. Whether you're a believer or not, the work never fails to uplift.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.