Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 28, 2022

REVIEW: UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center, Amherst, MA
April 26, 2022
by Jarice Hanson

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is an American treasure. On Tuesday night the extraordinarily talented cast of the North American Tour played to a packed house at the Frederick C. Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. With an excitedly appreciative audience cheering the performers, the company included seven dances choreographed by the current Artistic Director, Robert Battle, concluding with three classic dance pieces choreographed by the company’s founder, the late Alvin Ailey.   

Enhanced by simple, but elegant costumes, music that ranged from percussion pieces to pop, jazz, and gospel, and simple but mood enhancing lighting, the dancers created an electrifying experience that communicated joy, hope, and the beauty of remembrance.  

One of the Alvin Ailey hallmarks is the use of contemporary music to celebrate the African-American experience. This performance featured songs by Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and Leontyne Price, with instrumental numbers by Wynton Marsalis, Sheila Chandra, and Stevie Wonder.

It is hard to single out specific performers from the ensemble pieces because the very ethos of the company honors the collectivity of Ailey’s vision of celebrating the African-American cultural experience. Every member of the company is versatile and trained in a variety of dance genres. The largest group numbers included the opening “Mass,” featuring the fluidity of the denoted body and the power of coming together (a great metaphor for emerging from the darkest days of a pandemic) and the concluding piece, titled “Revelations” which highlighted traditional American music such as “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” “Take Me to the Water,” and “Move, Members, Move.” Singular dancers were too many to mention by name, but each, a true artist who fluidly supported the ensemble and able to shine when it was their time in the spotlight.

The name of the company reflects not only the company’s visionary founder, but the very specific traditions of American Dance. With references to swing, classical ballet, cakewalks, jazz and more, this company celebrates traditions of persons of color who find the uniqueness in being an “American” in contemporary times. Their musical choices and their physical gifts lift us up and bring us the joy of unity.  

As the audience left the theatre after a rousing standing ovation punctuated by several curtain calls, the feeling was euphoric. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater lifts us by their joy, their enthusiasm, their unique cultural contribution, and most of all, with their beauty, talent, and the joy of life.