Ailey II at the MAC: Gaga, high-energy humor and, of course, 'Revelations'

Ailey II—the second company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT)—stopped in Glen Ellyn, IL for a one-night-only performance at the MacAnich Arts Center (MAC) at the College of DuPage last weekend. In an hour and half show, the company performed three works in a diverse bill that showcased the ingenuity of emerging dancers and dancemakers—with “Psuke” by Andrea Miller and “Where There Are Tongues” by South African-born choreographer and former Ailey II dancer Bradley Shelver—and demonstrated the long-lasting legacy of AAADT through Alvin Ailey’s famous ballet, "Revelations." 

An evening with Ailey transports you through time. There was such a buzzing energy prevalent in the theatre before the show began, with people rushing through the doors at the very last minute to grab their seats just before the curtain went up. Teenagers, most of whom appeared to be dancers themselves, teemed with excitement while humming the spirituals “Wade in the Water,” and sharing the joy in pre-show chatter. It reminded me of my first introduction to Ailey as a teenager. To be able to recognize yourself in the dancers’ long arms, lifted torsos and dark skin, and hear your upbringing in the music was a gift. As the second company, Ailey II delivers with such a supple intention in every movement that invokes their (and our) humanity, even as they perform seemingly non-human tasks. 

The evening began with the visceral and poetic “Psukhe” (pronounced ‘pSEE-hee’)—a work by Miller of Gallim Dance. Rooted in Gaga movement language developed by Batsheva Dance Company’s Ohad Naharin, this work features energetic duets and solos that exhibits the soul and athleticism typical of Ailey repertoire. The title—a Greek word meaning ‘life’s breath, spirit, and soul’—is the origin for the English word ‘psyche’ and creates the right tone for duets that are intimate and group moments that are powerful. “Where There Are Tongues” is an exhilarating, high-energy, and humorous number choreographed by Shelver. Duets moved in and out of acting out tiny vignettes, scenes representing love, violence, play, joy as the other dancers witness, encircling the duet in the margins of the spotlight. The rhythmically complex music by a French a capella group, La Cor De La Plana, that accompanies this rambunctious community’s play is gorgeous and creates space for the audience to be surprised in this pulsating work. 

The classic and crowd-favorite, “Revelations,” ended the evening, as is tradition with every Ailey performance. As the lights dimmed and the curtain rose on the ten dancers looking to the ceiling with palms open, the audience held its breath. Dancers Kyle H. Martin, Caroline Theodora Dartey, and Chicago-born Brena Thomas stunned in “Wade in the Water,” and Carl Ponce Cubero in “I Wanna Be Ready” enlivened the spiritual and solo with new energy. The finale “Rocka My Soul” brought a rousing anticipation from the audience as soon as the golden sun rised above the stage. In this last joyful dance, Ailey II brought a sense of imagination and hope found within the blood-memory of African American spirituality that continues to inspire audiences even after we leave the theatre.