By Walter Rutledge
The augural season of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Artistic Director Robert Battle is shaping up to be an impressive launch into the next era of the company.
The five-week season at New York City Center, which begins November 30 and runs through January 1, 2012, will present four premieres and two revivals. One highly anticipated event is the world premiere of Home on December 1 by renowned Hip-Hop choreographer Rennie Harris. Home is inspired by stories of people living with or affected by HIV.
The stories are part of the Fight HIV Your Way contest, an initiative sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb. Over one thousand three hundred stories were submitted, and ten stories were eventually selected to form the literary framework for Home. The contest and resulting choreography are a new and innovative approach in the fight against the pandemic. According to estimates from the UNAIDS Global Report 2010 over 30.8 million adults and 2.5 million children were living with HIV at the end of 2009.
On Wednesday, September 28, we got a glimpse of Home and had the opportunity to observe Harris’ choreographic process. Home is set to gospel house music, which suits Harris’ signature Hip Hop/ club style. His process includes developing a large body of movement with the dancers and then refining the “steps” into movement phrases. The phrases are then set in a very textural design/structure, which creates strong geometric patterns, diverse dynamics, and an exciting multi-layering of levels. The process was reminiscent of dance legend Talley Beatty, who developed his urban masterwork The Stack Up on the company in 1982.
“I think Rennie is great in the way he takes a conceptual approach to hip hop,” states Battle. “He is bringing a unique perceptive to stories that absolutely have to be told, and that ought to be realized in a dance vocabulary that comes from a new generation. The December 1 premiere will be a day of major significance as, in addition to World AIDS Day, it is also the day we lost our founder Alvin Ailey to the disease twenty-two years ago.”
On Wednesday, December 6, 1989, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater opened its season at New York City Center with a tribute to its founder, who died just five days earlier on Friday, December 1. The program had been altered so that all of the works presented that night were choreographed by Ailey. The evening finale was his 1960 masterpiece Revelations.
The audience had been respectfully subdued that evening, but during Rocka My Soul the spirit of Ailey; his genius, his generosity, his love for dance and for mankind filled the theater. At the conclusion of Revelations the audience erupted with uncontrollable applause. Just before the customary encore a large screen descended above the stage and an image of Ailey appeared. In the pit were Brother John Sellers, Ella Mitchell, Bernard Thacker, a gospel choir, conductor Tania Leon and the musicians.
This night there was only one reprise, suddenly the stage began to fill with people. Board members in evening entire, backstage crew in jeans, and former company members, came on stage and began to embrace the dancers. Many were carrying yellow roses and loving placed them under Ailey’s image. Dancers began to cry, and others waived goodbye to his portrait as they exited the stage.
The audience rose as one standing in silent reverence; the outpouring of love and the depths of sadness were overwhelming. It was as if time had stood still for one brief moment to honor this gentle giant who had left us too soon. Brother John continued to sing as the audience slowly left the theater.
The first five cases of AIDS were reported on June 5, 1981, thirty years has passed and despite advances in treatment, prevention and education more than fifty-six thousand people become infected annually. We applaud the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Bristol-Myers Squibb for using the power of dance to increase awareness, and eagerly await the premiere of this important work on December 1. For more information about Fight HIV Your Way visit www.fightHIVyourway.com and for information about the upcoming Ailey season visit www.alvinailey.org.
Home will be performed on: December 1 (8pm), December 3 (2pm), December 4 (3pm), December 13 (7pm), December 16 (8pm), December 17 (8pm), December 18 (7:30pm), December 21 (8pm), December 28 (8pm) December 30(8pm), December 31 (7pm).
Photos: 1 and 6) Home cast photo by Claudia Schreier 2) Rennie Harris photo by Rose Eichenbaum 3)Robert Battle photo by Andrew Eccles 4) Alvin Ailey photo by Eric N. Hong 5) Alvin Ailey photo by Normand Maxon
Video edit by Walter Rutledge