Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returned to the Auditorium the first week of spring with their usual bounty of repertoire, including a good number of premieres, as well as classic works by Ailey. Among the new, Thursday’s program began with company member Hope Boykin’s 2016 work, “r-Evolution, Dream,” set to a score by Ali Jackson (of Jazz at Lincoln Center) and recordings of text by Boykin, William Cowper, Isaac Watts, Shakespeare and others spoken by Leslie Odom, Jr. (of “Hamilton”). Said to be “inspired by the sermons and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” the piece does not contain his voice, his image, his words or indeed much of the man at all. Beginning with the promising image of a single dancer (Matthew Rushing) gesticulating upstage before turning to face the audience in a black power salute, the stage is then overrun by dancers in color-coded tribes—black and white, of course, and, lest the scheme become too literal, mix with blue to get green and purple. While the text is a smorgasbord of aphorisms (“The mind is the standard of the man.” “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”), the dance proceeds as a series of forgettable group sequences punctuated by strong images that flash before the eye—one man running, seemingly at full speed, while another, directly in front of him, eludes him at a walking pace, a man briefly possessed by the disorder of his own trembling leg—before receding into the swirl of colors. An extended solo for a woman (Megan Jakel) disrupts the monotony with a burst of confident energy (“If you can’t be a tree be a bush.”), but the piece itself has no resolution beyond the whole company in a harmony of colors, marching saints-style about fifteen minutes too late into the wings.
Ailey’s “Masekela Language” reverses the proportion of aria to chorus, presenting brief but coherent vignettes of claustrophobic despair as men and women in a bar emerge to dance to the tinny sound of jukebox jazz. The lights are dim, the tunes by South African trumpet player Hugh Masekela fuzzy, the lives of these folk heavy with frustration.
Wedged between jazz and gospel, Christopher Wheeldon’s 2005 duet “After the Rain,” to Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel,” can only be said to be a curiosity. Though valiantly addressed by Sarah Daley and Jamar Roberts, Wheeldon’s piece demands a silence not often practiced by this particular company and not to be reduced to a series of gymnastics. Fortunately, every evening at Ailey is redeemed by “Revelations,” which never disappoints. (Irene Hsiao)
At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress. (312)341-2300, auditoriumtheatre.org. Tickets from $33. Through March 26.