The shows, Tuesday and Wednesday at Centennial Hall, both conclude with the late Ailey's signature piece, "Revelations." The 1960 masterwork, which Dance Magazine declared the top modern dance of the 20th century, is an exhilarating three-part tapestry set to black spirituals. A native of East Texas' scrublands who was raised in the Baptist Church, Ailey himself said the dance was based on his "blood memories."
"Revelations" is the dance that the Ailey troupe, now under the direction of Judith Jamison, can't leave home without--audiences everywhere expect and demand to see it. The company, however, has always prided itself on commissioning new work from contemporary choreographers. For this year's 45th season, the troupe ordered up no fewer than four new dances from four different choreographers. Three of these premieres are on the Tucson program.
In addition to "Revelations," Tuesday night's show features new work by Alonzo King and Robert Battle, and a re-staged 1979 dance by Elsa Monte. King, artistic director of the highly regarded Lines Ballet of San Francisco, offers "Heart Song," a ballet danced to traditional Moroccan music. (Tucson audiences saw King's "Following the Subtle Current Upstream" in March 2002, when the Ailey troupe was last here.)
Battle, a Juilliard grad who's been with Parsons Dance Company since 1994, has been guest-choreographing for a number of companies. "Juba," his first for Ailey, was praised by The New York Times in December as "frenetic and electrifying." A quartet that reworks The Rite of Spring, it's danced to John Mackey's original score, also commissioned by Ailey. Monte, a former Martha Graham dancer who founded her own eponymous company in 1982, has updated "Treading," a duet danced to music by Steve Reich.
Wednesday's new work is "Footprints" by Jennifer Miller, an innovative dance-theater-circus artist who founded New York's Circus Amok. Her high-energy group work is danced to an original score by Lawrence Nachsin. The late Billy Wilson's 1992 "The Winter in Lisbon" shows off his fusion of ballet and African-American social dance.