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Alvin Ailey opens five-show run at Wang

Dance troupe closes each show with ‘Revelations’

Susan Saccoccia
Susan Saccoccia
Alvin Ailey opens five-show run at Wang
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performing “Deep.” (Photo: Photo: Robert Torres/Celebrity Series of Boston)

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is an instrument of collective memory second to none. Over six decades, the dance company has been illuminating the African American experience and its ever-evolving heritage of music and dance, one of the greatest gifts of this country to the world.

Back in Boston last week for five shows at the Boch Center Wang Theatre, the company’s four-day stay — its 46th visit presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston — featured five Boston premieres. Each show concluded with Alvin Ailey’s signature masterpiece, “Revelations,” which he created in 1960 for his then-new company.

These annual visits have become community events extending well beyond the stage. Company members such as Boston Arts Academy graduate Belen Pereyra lead master classes in local schools. And since its start in 1990, the Celebrity Series “Arts for All!” discount ticket program has enabled 75,000 young people to attend its shows, with Ailey performances the highest in demand. At the Saturday matinee, the dance company’s artistic director, Robert Battle, celebrated this milestone, hosting 300 local students for activities that included backstage meetings with dancers.

Thursday’s program began with “Deep,” a 2016 work choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti, who also designed the simple black costumes worn by the dancers, eight women and eight men. The musical duo Ibeyi — Naomi and Lisa-Kinde Diaz, twin daughters of late Cuban percussionist Miguel Díaz of Buena Vista Social Club — provided the contemplative, pulsing soundtrack with Afro-Cuban hand drums, piano and vocals. Angular lighting by Carlo Cerri
accented the spare, African-inflected lyricism of the work’s striking duets, such as when a woman stood on her male partner’s neck and later, on his knees; as well as its communal clusters, including the final formation, as the ensemble wrapped itself into a knot.

Less stirring but brimming with showmanship was another Boston premiere, “Walking Mad,” by Swedish choreographer Johan Inger to Ravel’s “Boléro” and a contemporary composition by Arvo Pärt. Inger also designed its giant prop, a movable wall and the multicolored garb of its dancers, three women and six men. The piece’s deft start echoed music hall humor: a man in a bowler hat and oversized jacket wandered onstage, knelt, and held the edge of the massive stage curtain. As it rose, he seemed to be pulling it up. Playful, colorful, but not always benign, the work unfolded as a series of scenes, such as a coven of males in pointy party hats seeking mates and a long spell of silence in which a woman in a pink dress wedged herself into a dark corner as if dodging the partygoers. Lighting by Erik Berglund cast shadows that created looming multiples of would-be suitors.

“Ella,” the evening’s third Boston premiere, was a high-spirited duet choreographed by Robert Battle to Ella Fitzgerald’s live recording of “Airmail Special.” Clad in rhinestone-trimmed black tails, Michael Francis McBride and Renaldo Maurice evoked the Nicholas Brothers, tap dance legends, with their elegant somersaults and split-second footwork, all in sync with Fitzgerald’s soaring scat.

Then with bonnets and fans fluttering in full force, the ensemble performed “Revelations,” filling the theater with joy.

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