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60 Years of Ailey Ascending at City Center : "LAZARUS" a World Premiere by Hip Hop Artist-in-Residence, Rennie Harris

60 Years of Ailey Ascending at City Center : "LAZARUS"  a World Premiere by Hip Hop Artist-in-Residence, Rennie Harris
Serena S.Y. Hsu

By Serena S.Y. Hsu
View Profile | More From This Author

Published on December 10, 2018
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater,Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |ZUMA

LAZARUS Ascends with Visionary Soul

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center until December 30 for programs and tickets click here 

Choreographer Rennie Harris

Costumes by Mark Eric Rodriguez / Lighting by James Clotfelter /  Music & Sound by Darrin Ross

Each of us bears a responsibility in a great divide –to carry each other as brothers and sisters toward racial equality– and LAZARUS reaches out of anguish into an emotional, revelatory premiere for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 60th Anniversary.

Daniel Harder (foreground center) with Akua Noni Parker, Jeroboam Bozeman, and Michael Francis McBride. Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |ZUMA Press

Designed as AAADT’s first two-part ballet, LAZARUS, resounds with blues-infused house music, interlaid voice narration, and orchestrated nuances of Harris’ hip hop choreography. The joyous spirituality of Alvin Ailey’s REVELATIONS is symbolically “turntabled” into a dystopian reversal with race relations – doubt, turmoil, and an unanswered question.

LAZARUS opens with a beautiful piano melody jarred by coughing and choked breathing. Immobile figures are lifted and dragged across the stage – one on one...

Yannik Lebrun carries Jacqueline Green (foreground). Michael Jackson, Jr. carries Vernard J. Gilmore (background). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

until a singular dancer breaks through the chain as the central “Lazarus,” danced by Daniel Harder.

Jamar Roberts carries Daniel Harder. Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Daniel Harder (l) and Jamar Roberts (r). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Presshis is a photo credit

… I suffer from survivor’s guilt.

Other figures wade through the darkness – unable to gain ground.

Akua Noni Parker  and Michael Francis McBride. Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Darkness rolls into a harvest of supine figures that alternate between broken-stemmed forearms or hands clasped in prayer amid whispers and disjointed piano notes.

Sarah Daley-Perdomo moves across huddled figures. Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

A haunting poem is recited as female figures reap a bitter harvest moving to a soundscape of heartbeats and sobbing. As Harris explains in his interview, the section pays tribute to his “(personal) relationships of being raised in a matriarchal family.”

Belen Pereyra-Alem (l) and Sarah Daley-Perdomo (r). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

From this dark place of liquid warmth encased within the membrane of possibilities… I impatiently await the chance to know the space just beyond the thickness of my mother. I can hear the whispers and the call of her heartbeats urging me to force this space where love or death await, the result of my effort. I fight against the very place that has kept me alive. The sacrifice has been made that I may taste the sweetness of the air and cry…

Interludes of House, cello and violins alternate with the human voice emulating a trombone and trumpet. African drums and thumping repetitions likewise bring tonal shifts to the percussive House ambiance.

A thrilling ensemble of Alvin Ailey company dancers is accompanied by a falsely joyous melody with an irony of words.

From l-r: Daniel Harder, Michael Francis McBride, Yannik Lebrun (foreground) and Akua Noni Parker, Ghrai DeVore, Jacqueline Green and Jacquelin Harris (background). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |ZUMA Press

I’ve been told all my lies, I got nothing left to pray, I’ve got nothing left to say, I’m a black man in a white world, I’m a black man in a white world ... I’m in love, but I’m still sad, I’ve found peace, but I’m not glad… I’ve been trying the wrong way…I’ve lost everything I’ve had.

Soliloquys and blues-on-reverb immediately follow, casting haunting imagery of sinister times. Soloists dance floor-level, weighed by gravity.

Daniel Harder. Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Dark history has pulled my head in the direction of the earth spinning out-of-control. Why do I even exist as I (trace the) human potential around the body of Negro life, and search for the signs of hope within my dreams…

Jacqueline Green. Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Harris explains that Jacqueline Green's movement originated from one of Harris' Bone Breaker dancers.

Jacqueline Green. Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Bone Breaking is a rhythmic contortionist dance in hip-hop.

… Far from the river where things grow green, flowers weep and lead away from the blood-stained soil beneath my feet.

A techno beat thrums to a cadence of humming and crooning voices. Bongos and ululations (a cross between wailing and a high trilling sound) usher in part battle cry/part lament, as dancers leap individually, then pair up, then gather as one.

Sarah Daley-Perdomo charges forward… Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press
Ghrai DeVore (front) and Michael Francis McBride (back) leap in synchronous movement. Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press
Yannik Lebrun (center foreground) with Jacqueline Green, Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Vernard J. Gilmore, Michael Jackson, Jr., and Daniel Harder (background l-r). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Second Act of LAZARUS starts slowly as dancers appear from the shadows, as a solo musician sings an interlude to the portent of Act One’s prior struggle in the civil rights movement, depicted below.

Daniel Harder (center). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Lift every voice and sing. Sing to the heavens until the heavens ring. Truth to our God, truth to our Native Land; may we forever stand (2x over). Out of the blowing past, ‘til we stand and last, where the Golden Star has passed. Will you lift every voice and sing, ‘til the Heavens ring. Go tell your neighbors, go tell your friends, Freedom’s come… Freedom’s come.

With the second act, the signature exhilaration of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater is accompanied by celebratory refrains of “He is Risen.”

Jeroboam Bozeman (center) with Daniel Harder, Hope Boykin, Jamar Roberts, and Michael Francis McBride (background l-r). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Hip hop is infused with the modern dance.

Jeroboam Bozeman, Daniel Harder, and Michael Jackson, Jr. (l-r). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Daniel Harder and Jamar Roberts (l-r). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

The overriding current of musical joy and dance energy is “Come forth, can’t you feel it, yes, I know it. Clap your hands, do your dance, raise your hands. Hallelujah, freedom’s here. A new life for me, (a) new dawn for me, yes, it’s a new day…”

Jacqueline Green, Hope Boykin, and Sarah Daley-Perdomo (l-r). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Shown visibly are Daniel Harder, Michael Jackson, Jr., Michael Francis McBride, and Vernard J. Gilmore. Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

But once again, Harris’ work brings one back from active social collective…

Megan Jakel and Vernard J. Gilmore (center). Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

to the subconscious singular introspection.

Jamar Roberts. Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

My bitterness made me depressed. I was ashamed… while my family was struggling, I was becoming successful… I realized my success was built on racism. You see hip-hop is based on respect, and in order to give respect, you have to show respect... And once we show respect for each other, we can begin to forget the suffering and pain caused by the other man and to heal ourselves.

LAZARUS concludes suddenly with a sudden call resounded from the darkened stage. Will you, the audience, recognize the Path to Emmaus? Will we as a nation be reborn? Where are we in our belief and pursuit for racial equality? LAZARUS calls each of us to surrender ourselves to this question.

Harris notes in his own artistic journey, “There were moments during the creation process that I thought I was in control of the work, but later I realized the work was creating itself.”

Choreographer Rennie Harris during a dress rehearsal. "Lazarus" is a premiere for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's 60th Anniversary celebration, "Ailey Ascending." Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu |Zuma Press

Lorenzo Rennie Harris is a Philadelphia native. He founded the first and longest running hip-hop touring company, Rennie Harris Puremovement, (1992), which brings hip hop’s celebratory and cultural works to the international circuit, such as being a dance ambassador for President Obama’s “Dance Motion USA” (2012) and as a Guggenheim Fellowship, US & Canada Award recipient. Harris is a winner of three Bessie Awards, a multi-grant recipient of the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and a winner of “The Artist of the Year Award/Governer’s Awards for the Arts” (2007). Harris continues to teach at multiple universities and is serving as artistic advisor to Alvin Ailey’s New Directions Lab conducting master classes and teaching hip hop to Ailey II and the Ailey School.

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