Explaining his bluesy masterpiece Revelations, Alvin Ailey said that the opening moments of his multipart ballet were about “trying to get up out of the ground.” Just in case anyone is wondering whether a work from an African-American dancemaker that premiered during the Eisenhower administration is still relevant.
The namesake dancer-choreographer died in 1989, but his company continues. On Feb. 3, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater arrives in Toronto as a beloved institution: “You know, it’s like Norman Rockwell,” said superstar endorser Oprah Winfrey, “and then there’s Alvin Ailey.” Three performances at Meridian Hall, featuring new works and repertory favourites such as Revelations, kick off a 22-city North American tour led by artistic director Robert Battle.
The program for Friday evening and Saturday afternoon includes Ailey’s Night Creature (balletic allegro jumps that are set to Duke Ellington’s romantic and symphonic nocturnal vision), the solo dance Reflections in D (with more Ellington music) and Battle’s duet Unfold and For Four (a quartet of dancers moving in 4/4 time).
Saturday evening’s schedule calls for the Canadian premiere of Kyle Abraham’s Are You in Your Feelings? (a youthful celebration of Black culture scored to a mixtape of soul, hip-hop and R&B) and a new production of the piece Survivors (a tribute to Nelson and Winnie Mandela that moves jazzily in Max Roach time).
All three performances close with Revelations, which is set to a suite of traditional spirituals and inspired by Ailey’s childhood memories of church services as well as by the writings of James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. After its debut in 1960 at the 92nd Street Y in New York, the piece appeared in the opening ceremonies of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and was presented at the presidential inaugurations of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. More than six decades after its creation, Revelations continues to reveal itself.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at Toronto’s Meridian Hall, Feb. 3 to 4
SIX MORE BALLETS AND MODERN DANCE EVENTS
Red Sky Performance’s Miigis: Underwater Panther
The second creation in the Toronto troupe’s Miigis cycle focusing on the power of nature and Indigenous prophecy makes its world premiere. Sandra Laronde’s hour-long Underwater Panther portrays the migration of the Anishinaabe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. Jan. 22 to 29, Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto; with performances in Markham, Ont., Courtenay, B.C., Nanaimo, B.C., and Montreal to follow.
National Ballet of Canada’s Romeo and Juliet
Answering the iconic “where art thou” question, the National takes its Alexei Ratmansky-choreographed creation to the nation’s capital. Feb. 2 to 4, Southam Hall, Ottawa
Toronto Dance Theatre’s The Magic of Assembly
The waack is back. Waacking, an underground dance form that originated as an expression of strength and empowerment for gay men of colour in the 1970s, is enjoying a resurgence among the TikTok generation. Choreographer Ashley Colours Perez teams with electronic music duo LAL for a new production in an old-school style. Feb. 2 to 11, Winchester Street Theatre, Toronto
South African choreographer and performer Gregory Maqoma and musical director Thuthuka Sibisi explore the life and legacy of the African Native Choir, a group of young singers who toured Britain, the United States and Canada in the early 1890s. Feb. 23 to 25, Vancouver Playhouse; March 1 and 2; Babs Asper Theatre, Ottawa; March 9 to 11, Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto
Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Swan Lake
The choreography is iconic; Tchaikovsky’s score, a masterpiece. Big, lush, full-length classical ballet does not get any bigger and lusher than this love-soaked Russian fable. March 8 to 12, Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg
Les Grand Ballet’s Requiem
“It is a truly tremendous piece of art which moves the entire being in a way little else does,” the widow-pianist Clara Schumann wrote to Johannes Brahms about his grieving large-scale piece A German Requiem. Andrew Skeels’s contemporary choreography is set to the composer’s emotive notes. March 23 to 26, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Montreal