It is no secret that Santa Barbara dance audiences are spoiled by the caliber of companies that pass through town. In the past few seasons, the superb spectrum of talent ranged from the boundary-bending Akram Khan Company to the quintessentially classical New York City Ballet and the magnificently modern Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
Yet even among this stellar line-up, a tour stop by the iconic Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater elicits a sense of awe and a pinch or two to make sure one is not dreaming. It reminds a dance lover to thank her lucky stars she is a Gaucho and, as a student, can see world-class companies on the cheap.
The Ailey company’s April 13 and 14 performances at the Arlington Theatre showcased extraordinary feats of human dynamism and sensuous athleticism. The company was founded in 1958 by Alvin Ailey and fellow African-American modern dancers. To this day, it remains rooted in African-American culture while spearheading the development of modern dance in America. The dancers of the Ailey company are characterized by technical virtuosity infused with a spiritually visceral investment in the movement. Their artistry combines a contagious “joie de vivre” with an undercurrent of grave reverence for the dance practice, as was evident in the iconic “Revelations.”
The company’s signature work, “Revelations,” was featured in the Sunday program. Set to African-American religious music, “Revelations” is a work of profound spiritual transcendence and poignancy. It elicited tremendous applause of appreciation from the audience and an encore. While such an acclaimed masterpiece is liable to be weighed down by tradition and audience expectations, the dancers negotiated their unique connection to the movement to make the work truly their own. In addition to such repertoire classics, the company also presented new choreography to assert its place at the forefront of American contemporary dance.
In a stunning statistic, the Ailey company has performed live in front of approximately 23 million people across 48 states and 71 countries since it was founded. Thus it is no surprise, though no less of an honor, that a 2008 Congressional resolution designated the Ailey company “a vital American cultural ambassador to the world.”
As the awe-struck audience exited the Arlington Theatre this weekend, it was clear that the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater appearance was a particularly strong finale to the 2012-2013 Dance Season of the University of California, Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures program.