In Rehearsal: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

In Rehearsal: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Friday, Dec. 13 was not an unlucky day for me. Quite the opposite: I had the privilege of attending a rehearsal of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, currently in its annual season at New York City Center, thru Jan. 5. What a brilliant way to spend an afternoon.


The work being rehearsed was “The River,” choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1970 for American Ballet Theatre and first performed by the Ailey troupe in 1980. Its original score by Duke Ellington was the composer’s first specifically created for dance. The seminal collaboration between Ailey and Ellington has been restaged this season by Associate Artistic Director Masazumi Chaya, who conducted the rehearsal, an uninterrupted run-through of the full-company ballet, prior to its performance that night.


This being a rehearsal, there were no costumes, no lighting effects. Stage and auditorium lights only. The individuality of each dancer (perhaps 30 were onstage) shone through in the choice of garb, definitely a mixed bag of dressed-down comfort; but once the recorded music started, the famed Ailey discipline, teamwork and versatility were clearly in evidence. Dancer for dancer, the Ailey troupe is second to none. And in this work, they execute intricate moves from classical ballet, modern dance, jazz and even Broadway. (In the 1950s, Ailey was a dancer in Broadway musicals such as House of Flowers and Jamaica, and that experience never seemed to leave him.)


“The River” is an abstract ballet that nonetheless tells the story of life, from birth to death to rebirth. It’s a joyous celebration, told in sections (with names such as “The Lake,” “Vortex,” “Giggling Rapids,” "Falls," “Twin Cities”). And like flowing water, the work moves continuously and seamlessly from heart-stopping solos to romantic duets to humor-filled chorus lines.


At the end of the rehearsal, while Masazumi Chaya gave notes to the company, Artistic Director Robert Battle wandered in and addressed the visitors, putting the rehearsal in perspective and underlining why it was indeed a privilege for us to attend. Performance is only a small part of a dancer’s career, he said. The vast amount of his or her time is spent in rehearsal, out of public sight. By inviting us to a rehearsal, he wanted to open a window on the process and reveal all the hard work and effort that go into preparing a performance. Mission very much accomplished.


There are three more opportunities to see “The River” this season: Dec. 21 (matinee), Dec. 26 and Jan. 5 (matinee). But every work from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater repertoire is not-to-be-missed. Check out the performance schedule: Tues-Thurs 7:30 p.m., Fri 8 p.m., Sat 2 & 8 p.m., Sun 3 & 7:30 p.m., including performances on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.


>> Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St., 212.581.1212, thru Jan. 5



Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Rachael McLaren and Kirven Douthit-Boyd in Alvin Ailey’s “The River.” Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Antonio Douthit-Boyd in Alvin Ailey’s “The River.” Photo by Paul Kolnik