Much like the leaves that begin to bud on the trees in Millennium Park and the post-work sunsets commuters enjoy along the Eisenhower, Alvin Ailey’s yearly residency in the historic Auditorium Theater is like one of nature’s reminders that spring has sprung here in Chicago. But for the first time in half a century, in 2021, the elegance of Alvin Ailey dancers did not grace the Auditorium’s stage and audiences have felt the absence. The pandemic has caused us to miss a log of the culture we take for granted in this great city. But for many, it has also caused them to appreciate it all the more.
This spring, Ailey is back at the Auditorium Theatre, and with a program that celebrates the sheer depth and breadth of the world class dance company’s artistry in a way many haven’t seen before.
And the company will be celebrating more than just that, they’ll be marking a decade of visionary leadership by their forward thinking artistic director, Robert Battle. Battle and the company will be bringing a diverse program that features Ailey’s renowned artists, including Chicago natives Solomon Dumas and Bernard Gilmore (now celebrating his own 25th anniversary with the company) and three unique programs with premieres, new productions and Ailey classics. Ailey’s residency in Chicago this spring will feature the Chicago premiere of Battle’s For Four, adapted from video to stage; the return of hip-hop innovator Rennie Harris’s acclaimed work, Lazarus; and an Ailey & Ellington program showcasing new productions of beloved works paying tribute to Duke Ellington. Alvin Ailey’s American iconic masterpiece, Revelations—which has inspired generations through its powerful storytelling and soul-stirring spirituals since its creation in 1960—will serve as the finale for all performances.
For Battle, this program represents an opportunity to celebrate both the legacy of Alvin Ailey and his own work for the past 10 years, helping to tie a tread from the company’s historic roots to a newer vision that resonates with artists and audiences alike today. Said Battle, “Alvin Ailey’s vision provided the opportunity for generations of artists to use dance to inspire, unite and enlighten. Despite the twists and turns on the road we have all traveled together, we are excited to be returning to our Chicago home at the Auditorium Theatre while finding new ways to share artistry that renews our spirit of courage, hope, and joy. I am deeply humbled to have led this seminal Company for a decade, joined by incomparable dancers and choreographers on a journey of discovery that extends from the powerful works of our founder to the important voices of today – an ongoing dance dialogue that shines a light on the strength and resilience of our common humanity around the world.”
The first of three uniquely signature programs the company will perform here this spring is presented Wednesday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m. and entitled the Battle 10th Anniversary Program. Celebrating Battle’s visionary leadership, which has moved the company forward into its seventh decade, the performance unveils the Chicago premiere of Battle’s For Four, translated from dance film to the center stage and set to a sumptuous Wynton Marsalis jazz score written in 4/4 time, which captures the pent-up energy of a world cooped up during the pandemic. The evening, which repeats on Saturday, March 5, at 8 p.m., will also include a new production of Battle’s sensorial, swirling duet, Unfold, plus Mass, Ella, In/Side, Love Stories finale, and Takademe.
The second program, presented Thursday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m., is entitled, Ailey & Ellington and spotlights new productions of Pas de Duke, Reflections in D, and The River. This trio of cherished gems is among more than a dozen ballets Alvin Ailey created celebrating the musical genius of the eminent American composer Duke Ellington. They have have become revered Ailey classics. Pas de Duke was Ailey’s modern dance translation of a classical pas de deux honoring two of the most renowned dancers in the world, Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Reflections in D highlights the grace of the male dancer in a stunning, masterful expression of Duke Ellington’s composition. The River, originally choreographed in 1970 for American Ballet Theatre and first performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1980, combines classical ballet, modern dance and jazz in sections suggesting tumbling rapids and slow currents on a voyage to the great sea, all mirroring the journey of human existence. Also on the bill is perennial favorite Blues Suite, Ailey’s original masterpiece that launched the company during its first performance in 1958. The program repeats on Saturday, March 5, at 2 p.m. with a conversation with company artists taking place immediately following the Saturday matinee.
The final program, presented March 4 at 7:30 p.m., features Hip-hop innovator Rennie Harris’ acclaimed Lazarus, a powerful ensemble work inspired by the life and legacy of Alvin Ailey. The program returns to the Auditorium Theatre stage Friday, March 6, at 3 p.m.
For those who can’t get enough of Ailey’s legacy and artistry, the acclaimed creation of Ailey’s first two-act ballet is featured in the must-see AILEY documentary that opened the 36th season of PBS American Masters. Director Jamila Wignot’s resonant biography is told through Ailey’s own words, along with interviews of those close to him, evocative archival footage, and historic performances. It’s available to watch online for free through February 11 (visit pbs.org for more information to watch) and Hulu with a subscription.
And, of course, in addition to the variety of exciting repertory, the inspiring finale of all of Alvin Ailey’s Auditorium Theatre programs will be Ailey’s American masterpiece, Revelations, acclaimed around the world for causing hearts to soar and lifting audiences to their feet. Since its debut in 1960, Revelations has been seen by more people than any other modern dance work and has moved audiences through its powerful storytelling and soul-stirring music, evoking timeless themes of determination, hope and transcendence. Springing from Ailey’s childhood memories of growing up in the South and attending services at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Texas, Revelations pays homage to the rich cultural heritage of the African American and explores the emotional spectrum of the human condition.
For Chicagoans, this series will mark a welcome return to some of the normalcy in iconic Chicago arts and culture we’ve craved form some time now. And marking Battle’s milestone anniversary while seeing the company’s remarkable ark unfold on stage only makes the occasion one sweeter still. Auditorium Theatre CEO Rich Regan put it simply: “For over 50 years, the Auditorium Theatre has proudly welcomed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as one of its visiting resident companies. It has been a pleasure to see how this world-class dance company has blossomed under the leadership of Ailey Artistic Director Robert Battle and we look forward to celebrating his 10th anniversary. And after a year’s absence, as Chicago audiences return to theater-going, among the most anticipated events are performances by this joyous, iconic company.”
Tickets for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s Chicago residency at the Auditorium Theatre, March 2 – 6, 2022, start at $40 and are available at AuditoriumTheatre.org, by calling 312.341.2300, or at the Box Office at 50 E Ida B Wells Drive in Chicago, IL.
Readers will note: For this event, patrons 5 and over are required to show proof of vaccination at the door. Guests under 5 may gain entry by wearing a mask at all times when not eating and drinking. All guests must wear a mask when not eating or drinking.