IMPRESSIONS: Ailey II in "Poetic Motion"

IMPRESSIONS: Ailey II in "Poetic Motion"
Cecly Placenti

By Cecly Placenti
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Published on April 24, 2023
Rachel Yoo and Spencer Everett; photo by Danica Paulos

Choreography by Robert Battle, William Forsythe, Alvin Ailey, and a New York Premiere by Elizabeth Roxas Dobrish

Performance Date: April 1, 2023
Artistic Director: Francesca Harper
Rehearsal Director: Lakey Evans-Pena
Company Members: Nicholas Begun, Andrew Bryant, Spencer Everett, Jaryd Farcon, Maya Finman-Palmer, Patrick Gamble, Meagan King, Kali Marie Oliver, Amar Smalls, Tamia Strickland, Maggy van den Heuvel, Travon M. Williams, Rachel Yoo
Apprentices: Alfred L. Jordan II, Kayla Mei-Wan Thomas, Kiri Moore

Renowned for merging early career talent with the creative vision of the industry’s most outstanding choreographers, the dancers of Ailey II take the stage with the confidence of seasoned veterans. Poetic Motion, one of two programs presented at Ailey Citigroup Theater this season, celebrates expressiveness and highlights the breadth of Ailey II’s capacities — sensitivity, versatility, athleticism, and innovation.

dancers in white flowing robes pose
Robert Battles' Alleluia; photo by Erin Baiano

From the moment the seven dancers in Robert Battle's Alleluia (2022) bound onto the stage, joy proliferates. Their smiles radiate a deep pleasure, and they devour the stage space as if challenging the surrounding walls to contain them. Battle, like Alvin Ailey before him, takes inspiration from his church background and blends the demonstrative foot stomping and hand clapping praise of the Baptist Church with classical forms. Battles craftsmanship, particularly his deft shifts from personal gesture to classical dance makes for a memorable experience.  Operatic soprano Kathleen Battle (no relation) lends her distinctive vocal range to Alleluia’s score, giving compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, Alessandro Scarlatti, and George Frideric Handel, an otherworldly feel. Lush, long legs, a hallmark of the Ailey dancer, seem to rise forever. Spencer Everett's jumps hang in the air. Meagan King’s needle-point footwork and crisp changes of direction captivate and give Kathleen Battle’s crystal-clear notes physical form.

Poetic Motion spans Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s rich history. The fifty-year-old classic, Ailey’s The Lark Ascending, is presented tonight as an excerpt. Danced to Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Romance for Violin and Orchestra, this lyrical and romantic duet blends modern dance and ballet vocabularies. In 1972, Ailey wanted to showcase the ability of his dancers to expertly embody both dance forms. In 2023, Rachel Yoo and Travon M. Williams exude strength and lightness as their airy jumps culminate in quick rolls to the floor.

a male person supports a female person as she stands on leg with the other leg in a high arabessque
Rachel Yoo and Travon Wiliams in The Lark Ascending; photo by Danica Paulous

Elizabeth Roxas Dobrish, a former AADT dancer, choreographed mediAcation, a New York premiere. Merging the words “media” and “medication,” Roxas Dobrish explores the way communication methods affect intimate relationships. Three couples, color-coded by costume, hold the ends of crisscrossing ropes which represent their connection. At first, they move together, their ropes intersecting to create a web that restricts, yet supports. As the performers push and pull, their legs and arms become tangled in the ropes, which call to mind social media connections. A sense of danger emerges.

Separate yet linked, each couple struggles with the need to be upheld by outside forces, versus the desire to stand independently. Yoo and Everett conjure feelings of new love as they fall repeatedly into each other’s arms. Patrick Gamble and King illustrate the darker side of relationships with erratic, argumentative hand gestures, while Tamia Strickland and Williams portray tender sensuality. In the final section, an almost club-like scene, covetousness and an obsessive need to be noticed and liked take over. 

Meagan King and Patrick Gamble in mediAcation; photo by Danica Paulos

To present a program as diverse as Poetic Motion without sacrificing the distinctions of each choreographic work is a testament to Ailey II’s power as a company. William Forsythe's Enemy in the Figure (presented as an excerpt) provides a final example of that voltage. Perhaps, this is due in part to the expertise of artistic director, Francesca Harper, a former principal dancer with Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt. Filled with machine-gun speed turns that suddenly arrest into soaring suspensions; jumps that laugh at gravity, and cat-like sinuousness coupled with quirky rhythms, Forsythe’s style is relentless and notoriously difficult to master. But these dancers nailed it! Rousing standing ovations and kudos to all the artists and the artistic team.

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