Founded in 1958, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returned to the Kennedy Center with a gift of six days of breathtaking performances. Opening night featured three 2022 premieres and the classic “Revelations,” with Ailey devotees leaning in to absorb every movement.
“In a Sentimental Mood,” the first premiere of the evening, uses the Duke Ellington composition to play out a couple’s intimate life. Choreographed by Jamar Roberts, every graceful embrace and step away could be felt by anyone who witnessed their movements. When the music turned to a version of the Roberta Flack love song, the “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” the depth of the couple’s love was felt with every twist and turns. This was a delicate but intense dance.
A second premiere, “Duet,” was a modern ballet where all the dancers were united in traditional ballet movements. Choreographer Paul Taylor blends traditional ballet approaches with accents of modern ballet moves. Taylor’s choreography shows loving scenes of a couple’s domestic life.
“Are You in Your Feelings?,” the third premiere, was full of colorful sheer, flowing costumes accompanied by much posturing between the dancers. Unlike the first two premieres, this dance brings forth what appears to be the full ensemble that broke into smaller dance groups and solo performers. Beginning with a traditional romantic song by The Flamingos, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” the music and the body positions move into contemporary hits from Jazmine Sullivan, Drake, Erykah Badu, Lauren Hill, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Maxwell, and others. Then back to old school R&B with “Woman to Woman,” by Shirley Brown. The music selections added voice to the choreography of Kyle Abraham.
Getting to Ailey from Northwest Washington
Native Washingtonian Samantha Figgins was a dancer in “Are You in Your Feelings?” Figgins and her three sisters all dance. At age four, she began training with the Jones Haywood Dance School (JDHS), one of the most prestigious Black woman-owned dance programs in the D.C. area that famously trains students of color. That foundation established at JHDS took Figgins to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, from where she graduated in 2007. College at SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance and other dance programs along the way led Figgins to Alvin Ailey in 2014.
“My teacher at Jones Haywood was Sandra Fortune-Green, now the artistic director,” said Figgins. “I got my first taste of Ailey at Ellington when the dancers came for a master class with us.”
While in town for this year’s Alvin Ailey performances, Figgins taught a master class at Ellington.
“It’s really important for me to give them a vision of where this career can take them,” Figgins said with pride. “They can see themselves where they want to be. This is what I had growing up with my sisters.”
‘Revelations’ Never Gets Old
“Revelations,” choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1960, remains a staple of Dance Theater’s repertoire. The spirituals and the choreography continue to tell a story of the strength and determination of Black people in America. It’s an ongoing saga.
Not only was “Revelations” performed on opening night, but a few days later, Nasha Thomas, an Ailey Arts In Education master teacher and former member of the company, and Amos Machanic co-led a special workshop teaching excerpts from “Revelations.” A diverse group of all ages and abilities filled the area in front of the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. It was a rigorous 90-minute session from warming up to participants actually performing sections from “Revelations.”
Master Teacher Thomas cheered on her students and left them with applause and encouraging words from the late Ailey choreographer Ulysses Dove. “There is nothing to prove, only to share.”
Bravo to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater!