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    Alvin Ailey Dance Theater still “feels” my soul

    I’ll never be able to listen to a Duke Ellington tune again without seeing the acrobatically graceful dancers of the Alvin Ailey company. Duke’s music is all over Ailey’s “Night Creature,” and principal dancer Hope Boykin and the rest of the company moved through it, around it and within it.

    How can bodies move like that?

    I was in New York last weekend for a performance during the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 2016 season, and “Night Creature” was among the pieces that enthralled me. It had been several years since I’d seen the company, and the dancers were as wonderful as I remembered. Their performances still make my heart full.

    You can write about dance as much as you want to, but you have to have butt in chair to get the full effect of what Ailey had in mind back in 1958 when he decided to create an experience that embodied snippets of the lives of his own people, re-created them into something new and different, and returned the pieces to them in the form of dance.

    Alvin Ailey dance company

    Hope Boykin and the Alvin Ailey Company perform “Night Creature.” Photo from alvinailey.org.

    Ailey drew from his early years growing up in the South and the church, among people like himself whose pain and triumphs he blended into his dances. His people are the same types of people who influenced playwright August Wilson – real folks who loved and lived despite the odds. Ailey founded the company at a time when society that did not see black bodies as beautiful or fluid – even though Ailey had one of those bodies (and there were plenty of them – of all hues and nationalities – on stage at the New York City Center Saturday).

    In 2008, two decades after Ailey died and 50 years after the company was formed, both he and his company were the subject of a video celebrating that golden anniversary. It offered excerpts from “Cry,” which he created in honor of his mother and extended to all African American women, and “Revelations,” a powerful journey through the spirituals that have guided African Americans over the years. Just beautiful.

    One of my favorites from the past was the solemn love story “Sweet Bitter Love,” which no longer seems to be part of the repertoire. It was choreographed by Carmen de Lavallade (widow of actor/dancer Geoffrey Holder), who met Ailey when they were both in high school in Los Angeles. They became friends and danced together.

    Listen to the interviews from the anniversary video, observe the performances, and if you can, get up to New York to see the show. If that’s not possible, be sure to check out the company when it comes to your town. Join the 25 million people in 48 states and 71 countries who have marveled at human bodies that can do extraordinary things.

    Alvin Ailey dance company

    A young Alvin Ailey as dancer.

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