The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is one of the most celebrated and iconic dance companies in the history of contemporary American dance, and their latest performance at the David H. Koch Theater at New York City’s Lincoln Center lived up to their legacy with aplomb and great showmanship. The company, founded in 1958 by the late Alvin Ailey as a collection of African-American dancers, is now led by artistic director Robert Battle and associate artistic director Masazumi Chaya, and they have certainly succeeded in continuing to produce the moving, electric, socially/politically relevant performances that has made the troupe the standard-bearer of modern American dance.

The dancers, including Hope Boykin and Jeroboam Bozeman, performed the choreography, which skillfully blends both traditional and modern dance techniques, with unrivaled talent and grace. Many of the sets, costumes and props were minimalist in execution and may leave a bit to be desired for those accustomed to more lavish spectacles on stage, but I found this approach quite effective in stripping down the material to its emotional and aesthetic core. One example of this simple approach working quite well was the display of a massive American flag center stage during the performance of Odetta’s cover of Masters of War, the anti-war folk classic written by Bob Dylan, with Michael Francis McBride and Danica Paulos leading the dancers onstage. Paired with the polemical, damning lyrics of the song and the performers, who wore Vietnam-era helmets, acting out the tragic dance of the soldiers victimized by the masters of war, the flag was transformed from a symbol of banal patriotism into one of imperialism and death, a symbol taken advantage of by the masters of war to line their own pockets. It was a powerful and subversive effect, and with the War on Terror having no end in sight, the performance seemed as relevant today as it would have during the Vietnam War, a testament to the company’s continuing ability to take on the issues of the day.

The material wasn’t all so heavy; there was a hilarious performance of There’s a Hole In The Bucket, which featured Rachel McLaren and Marcus Jarrell Willis, that had the audience in stitches. The incredible range and abilities of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater were on full display at the Lincoln Center, guaranteeing that these gifted dancers will continue to carry on Ailey’s legacy well into the twenty-first century.

You can buy tickets for Alvin Ailey here. 

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