Ailey II review: A light in the darkness

As dance companies around the world have tried to stay afloat during the pandemic, Ailey II, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s second...


As dance companies around the world have tried to stay afloat during the pandemic, Ailey II, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s second company, has also weathered other kinds of upheaval.

In July 2020, its artistic director, Troy Powell, was fired amid allegations of “inappropriate communications” with adult students in the company’s training program. In September 2021, the choreographer Francesca Harperwho got her start as a student at the Ailey School – when she was led by her mother, Denise Jefferson – stepped in to lead the dancers.

The 12-member troupe is now back on stage at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in Midtown with a jam-packed two-week season. On Friday, a mixed bill called “Dichotomous” – the announced theme was “contrasting elements and voices” – brimming with the hopeful and sometimes uncertain energy of a new beginning.

Ailey II functions as a kind of minor league, a stage on the path from advanced student to full-fledged professional. To look at the current incredible crop of dancers – most of whom are only 22 years old – is to wonder where they will end up next and to hope that they will find jobs worthy of their talent, whether within or in the exterior of the Ailey organization.

While “Dichotomous” included several premieres, the surprise hit was an older piece and the program’s premiere, Robert Battle’s austere and fierce 2001’s “The Hunt.” In one of his smartest creative choices so far day, Harper proposed to Battle (the artistic director of the main company) that the work, originally created for a group of men, be performed by a troupe of women.

In the resulting adaptation on Friday, four female dancers – Jamaris Mitchell, Hannah Alissa Richardson, Brena Thomas and Rachel Yoo – demonstrated a thrilling solidarity, even as they took on the opposing roles of hunter and hunted. Communing in a circle, unleashing timbres and shouts that echoed the hard-hitting recorded score of The Drummers of the Bronx, they seemed to gain strength and stamina from eye contact with each other. Alongside Battle’s other works on the program – a snippet of “Alleluia” (2002) and the light new “Searchlight” – “The Hunt” seemed by far the most vital.

Another revelation was the brief duet “Saa Magni», choreographed in 2019 by Yannick Lebrun, a longtime member of the Ailey company. To a carrier song of the same name by Malian singer Oumou Sangaré, petite and expansive Meagan King and her sweet partner, Christopher Taylor, are guided by the warmth and sadness of the music. A sense of romantic yearning grew near the end, as King, appearing on the verge of tears, draped herself over Taylor’s shoulder and they retreated into darkness.

An excerpt from William Forsythe’s “Enemy in the Figure” (1989), which closed the first act, served as a fine showcase for high-speed convolutions and other technical feats. (Harper danced with Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt in the 1990s.) Among the nine dancers, Richardson, with his clear and calm authority, and Amar Smalls, who shifted with breathtaking ease between speed and stillness, stood out. both alone and as equally intense partners.

The two most recent works, Battle’s “Searchlight” and Harper’s “Freedom Series”, which made up the second half of the program, were also the least developed. The six-minute ‘Searchlight’, inspired by Harper’s relationship with her mother, seemed to end before it even began, with a whisper of allusion to their intergenerational bond, amid much heavy ensemble work .

“Freedom Series,” a suite of sci-fi-tinged vignettes, also felt unfinished, with an oddly abrupt ending. But here, at least, the 11 dancers seemed more settled, as if Harper had met them on their wavelength, drawing strength. (Richardson, Taylor and Elijah Lancaster, in particular, dazzled in their solo moments.) Over an eclectic musical collage, the dancers merged and scattered with glowing orbs in their hands, sometimes using the props to light each other up. others. They seemed immersed in their world and happy to be there together, which after the past two years is perhaps accomplishment enough.

Ailey II
Through April 3 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater; alvinailey.org.

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