Alvin Ailey Dancers Return Like Conquering Heroes

Alvin Ailey Dancers Return Like Conquering Heroes

But the difference between the items of the Ailey repertory, other than “Revelations” itself, matters much less. Each work has its own character: Very few are worth revisiting for their own sakes.

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Akua Noni Parker and Jermaine Terry in the “Fix Me, Jesus” section of Ailey’s “Revelations.”

Credit
Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

I derived minimal pleasure from one new work, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s “Victoria” (2017), a world premiere, though it’s marred by Michael Gordon’s score, “Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony” (2006). The taped music’s sections each reiterate one tiny figure from Beethoven’s score, while electronic sounds slide down and, later, up; it’s like watching a great painting being systematically defaced.

“Victoria,” a group number, builds up kinetic excitement in a number of ways, not least by shunting groups of dancers purposefully around the space. The idiom often resembles, or borrows from, hip-hop style, with isolated movements of limbs and muscles passing like currents through the body. For that reason, it suffered on Friday by being programmed after Rennie Harris’s “Exodus” (2015), a more fully developed study in that style. The main fault of “Exodus” is that it gets stuck in several ruts, but its exposition of hip-hop style has many stylistic marvels, while Mr. Roberts, in its messianic central role, often creates a visionary drama with his skilled control of slow motion and his gentle-giant interactions with other characters.

Another addition to repertory is Robert Battle’s “Mass,” a 2004 work now joining Ailey repertory. Mr. Battle became Ailey’s artistic director in 2011; as a choreographer, he has a number of styles. “Mass,” brightly costumed by Fritz Masten, is helped by being placed immediately after his dissimilar, short “Ella” (2006), which joined Ailey repertory last year. “Ella” is to Ella Fitzgerald performing scat; on Thursday, it was a happy vehicle for Ms. Figgins and Mr. Monteiro, fizzing away excitingly through a wide range of dynamics and moods in response to Fitzgerald’s gleeful virtuosity.

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Members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Robert Battle’s “Mass.”

Credit
Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

“Mass,” by contrast, is for 16 dancers to an earnest score by John Mackey. Intense, serious, it shows the architectural skill with which Mr. Battle contrasts groups as well as individuals. I find it effective rather than appealing.

Different from all these is “The Winter in Lisbon” (1992), choreographed by Billy Wilson (1935-1994) as a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, and restaged this season by Masazumi Chaya. This, in four segments, is bubbly, likable, forgettable. Mr. Harder roguishly leads one guys-and-gals quintet; Ms. Sims and Mr. Sims follow this with an atmospherically smoldering duet.

Wednesday’s gala was quite something for celebrity hunters. Queen Latifah and Janelle Monaé, ecstatically greeted by the audience, spoke in honor of both Debra L. Lee, the Alvin Ailey board president (and the chief executive of BET Networks), and the Ailey enterprise. The dancing began with the “Modern American Songbook,” a judicious sampler of dancers and styles showcasing the company’s varied skills. And Mr. Battle is becoming one of the great gala speakers: He teases others, the audience and himself with winning humor and authority.

All three programs ended with “Revelations.” The Ailey dancers certainly know how to sell their repertory, so it’s impressive to see the severity with which they play the opening sections of this classic. There are thrilling technical challenges — the audience knows and applauds them — but the dancers deliver them coolly, reminding us that this is not about stunts but the opposite: transcendence.

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