Keeping Ailey’s spirit alive


DANCE PREVIEW

8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16: “LIFT,” “D-Man in the Waters,” “Revelations.”

8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14 and 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15: “Ailey/Ellington” program featuring “Night Creature,” “Pas de Duke,” “The River,” “Revelations.”

8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15: “Four Corners,” “Strange Humors,” “Minus 16,” “Revelations.”

Student Day Performance

“D-Man in the Waters,” “Revelations.” 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 13. 404-881-2000.

Tickets are $25-$65. For info on student, family and group discounts, visit www.alvinailey.org/atlanta.

Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-881-2100, www.foxtheatre.org, or 1-855-285-8499, www.alvinailey.org.

For Alicia Graf Mack, a lead dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, performing at the Fox Theatre every year is like coming home.

Just before the curtain rises on “Revelations,” she’ll hear the audience clapping hysterically. They know what’s coming. It’s a sign that they are faithful followers.

“When we feel that energy from the audience, it enhances the way that we dance,” she said. “Because you know that they’re with you.” For many Atlantans, the Ailey troupe’s annual run at the Fox is a tradition some have observed since childhood.

So while artistic director Robert Battle, in his third season, continues to expand repertory, challenging the notion of what the Ailey company can be, he is keeping Ailey's dances alive. This year, Feb. 13-16, the company's diverse offerings include "Ailey/Ellington," featuring three works Ailey choreographed to music by Duke Ellington. It's one of three distinct programs filled with new commissions and revivals, notably Ronald K. Brown's "Four Corners," Aszure Barton's "LIFT" and Bill T. Jones' "D-Man in the Waters" (Part I). Each show will conclude with Ailey's iconic "Revelations."

For the Ailey company, an international powerhouse known for explosive and appealing modern dance with a commitment to celebrating African-American culture, it is Ailey’s works that keep dancers and audiences in tune with the founder’s standards, style and message.

"Ailey/Ellington" will feature Ailey's classic "Night Creature" and new productions of "Pas de Duke" and "The River" restaged by associate artistic director Masazumi Chaya.

Battle sees these classics as rites of passage for Ailey dancers — works that inspired them as children and challenged them as dancers new to the company. Ailey’s works remain vehicles for artistic growth for the company’s seasoned professionals.

For Mack, who will dance in “Pas de Duke” and a featured role in “The River,” performing Ailey’s works have been high points in her career.

As early as age 8, Mack remembers watching videotapes of the Ailey company in “Night Creature,” “Revelations” and “Cry.” As a serious ballet student, Mack underwent countless hours of tedious exercises. Watching Ailey’s full-bodied, expressive style on video reminded her to “really move.” She aspired to be a classical dancer, but knew she wanted to be an Ailey dancer before her career ended.

Mack danced with the classical Dance Theatre of Harlem before joining the Ailey company in 2005. She left in 2008 because of injury and illness and rejoined in 2011. She remembers her first days as a company member, learning “Revelations” and “Night Creature.” There was a sense of excitement that she had finally arrived.

"Night Creature," she said, expresses a side of Ailey we don't see in "Revelations." Its sexy, egotistical leading lady reflects Ellington's quote, "Night creatures, unlike stars, do not just come out at night — they come on, each thinking that before the night is out he or she will be the star."

New York Times dance critic Jennifer Dunning described the piece, created in the mid-1970s, as “comical” and “yearningly lyrical,” with “impudent undulating bodies” filling the stage in its last section.

“Night Creature” epitomizes the Ailey dancer, Mack said. It requires stamina and clean ballet, modern and jazz dance technique, while remaining grounded and cool. Expansive arabesques and small, quick jumps, plus hip movements and complicated foot rhythms, challenge even the most versatile dancers.

Mack looks forward to performing “Pas de Duke” at the Fox. Created in 1976 for Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the bravado “battle of the bests” requires power and technical brilliance. Over the past couple of years, the duet has spurred Mack, now in her mid-30s, to work harder on jumps and leaps, while carrying a subtler attitude — not outwardly sexy, but simply allowing the work to shine.

Whether these dances will remain relevant to new audiences at the Fox is a question for Battle. He thinks they'll identify with the syncopated rhythms of "Night Creature," as well as its joy, flirtation and humor. "There are people who don't just 'come out at night, they come on.' That is still true," Battle said. "A lot of them are in the audience."