The Dallas Examiner
“What can I say about this company?” asked Charles Santos, executive/artistic director of Texas International Theatrical Arts Society, as he introduced The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to the Winspear Opera House audience March 31 for the first of a three-day engagement.
“They are probably the No. 1 touring company in America. They are one of the great, great dance companies in the world today, continuing a legacy of one of the great artists of our time, Alvin Ailey,” he said. “This is the company that comes with greatest dance music performance today, and an extraordinary selection of repertory work.”
With that buildup, the theater group came ready to work to live up to such praise. The performance began with blackness. In the darkened theater, the curtain rose to reveal a barely lit stage. A trio of dancers dressed in black performed the first program of the night, DEEP.
The dancers first moved with their arms extended, birds taking wing, easing forward, then falling back together as one would attempt to fly too far forward. The music of Ibeyi, combining American, European and African cultures, complemented the fluidity of the dance. More and more members of the company would periodically enter the stage, and feet, necks, abdomens, elbows and hands were as much a part of the action individually as the larger physical movements.
Soon, the performance space was filled with bodies moving like snakes, birds, gazelles, spinning and gesturing – at times in unison; counter to one another in other moments – as a lone piano solo might give way to a drum beat and vocalizations, the musical elements combining with the physical, dipping between smooth transitions and jarring abruptness, just as the nature around us may appear at times.
Next, WALKING MAD was presented. The production took place in front of a wooden wall that acted as both scenery and prop, as it was movable by performers to augment the concept of the dance. The act began as a humorous look at the “dance of seduction,” the timeless chase between men and women who are interested – or at times, disinterested – in one another. Yet as the performance continued and the wall was utilized at various times as a platform, a barrier or a darkened corner, the humor gave way to the smaller complexities of relationships. While Ravel’s Bolero played, the idea of rejection played out. The rejected transformed into one used, then controlled. Concepts of multiple partners, force, acts committed in desperation for companionship and reactions to the futility of unrequited love – all were presented wordlessly, with an incredible athleticism contrasting the fragile emotions that are bound up in physical and romantic connections.
The next program, AFTER THE RAIN PAS DE DEUX, unveiled the music of Arvo Part’s Spiegel im Spiegel in support of a duet of a male and female dancer. The unadorned stage and bright light drew focus solely onto the pair as they performed in the one piece of the evening that most closely resembled a ballet in terms of dance style.
The final part of the performance has been the company’s signature triptych of movement since 1960. REVELATIONS, a segment of shorter dance sequences using spirituals and other gospel music under the three segments PILGRIM OF SORROW, TAKE ME TO THE WATER and MOVE, MEMBERS, MOVE, combined soloists, small enables and the entire touring company to examine the Black experience.
“Ailey said that one of America’s richest treasures was the African American cultural heritage –‘sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful,’” the Theater’s website states.
“This enduring classic is a tribute to that tradition, born out of the choreographer’s ‘blood memories’ of his childhood in rural Texas and the Baptist Church.”
This final program drew a prolonged standing ovation from the assembled crowd, encouraged by the company to join in the performance with clapping and singing if they were so moved.
Ann Williams, founder of the Dallas Black Dance Theater, was in the audience for the performance and was overheard declaring, “This is a joyous night,” as the packed theater celebrated the energetic conclusion of the program.
After the show, Samantha Figgis, a dancer who joined the company in 2014, and Chalvar Monteiro, who has been dancing with the Theater since 2015, rejoined the leader of TITAS to speak to the lingering audience members and answer their questions.
Figgis discussed the remaining stops on the U.S. tour, which would then shepherd the Theater into a period of touring Europe and Asia. The conversation revealed some concerns from the audience about President Trump’s travel ban executive order when the subject was broached of any changes in the tour.
“Not yet,” the dancer replied as she indicated the company did not have many international members. “It’s like, we do have international [dancers], but not from the banned places, so they are safe from …” she trailed off as she tried to find the right words, which drew knowing laughter from the audience.
When it came to recreation or rituals in the hours before the performances, Figgis, Monteiro and Santos explained that the artists were kept busy with such varied activities as warm up rehearsals, physical therapy, meditation and the game Cards Against Humanity. The two performers also affirmed that it is an asset to always be adaptable and, in relation to building toward success, never turn down the chance to learn from a given situation.
“This is actually not something that I thought I would be doing. I grew up in the Dance Theater of Harlem world,” admitted Figgis, as she described watching her older sister learn ballet technique, a path that she followed.
“I’m having a more well-rounded experience being at Ailey. You know, sometimes your plans just go in a different direction but you might not think that’s think that’s what you need, but it is – and I’m here and I’m happy about it.”
Monteiro confessed that it took him seven attempts to get into the Theater, but not getting what he wanted made him work harder and become more focused.
“What I would tell any young aspiring artist is, find the value in every lesson, even if it’s not at your comfort level, even if you think it’s not something that you think you’ll be able to use in your immediate future, you’re always going to be able to reference something, in some upbringing, some foundation,” the dancer offered.
“So if you make your foundation as well-rounded as you can then you’ll never be short.”