After several decades, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is finally returning to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. On Tuesday, June 3, the legendary company will take the stage with two exciting programs that run the gamut from Ailey’s rarely seen classic, born from the appalling injustices of apartheid, to a new work by a 28-year-old talent, inspired by the personal irritation triggered by public transportation.
According to Linda Shelton, executive director of The Joyce Theater, which is presenting the Ailey company at BAM, “[The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater] were interested in more performances in their hometown — and they haven’t been to Brooklyn in 35 years — so it seems like a really good match.
“It was [BAM President] Karen Hopkins who approached me to consider this idea, and I think that when you’re approached by someone like Karen — who’s offering her time and expertise — to me, that meant a lot.”
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) will use the BAM dates — there are eight in all through June 8 — to show off the work that has sustained the company for the last half-century.
“We have the most exquisite dancers you’ll ever see,” AAADT Artistic Director Judith Jamison crowed to GO Brooklyn. “That’s why we’ve been around for 50 years and have at least 50 years to go.”
Jamison has created a “Classic Ailey” program, dedicated to their celebrated founder’s choreography, including “Masekela Langage” — which made its New York City premiere at BAM in 1969 and was revived by her for the golden anniversary; “Revelations,” celebrating African-American cultural heritage; “Night Creature,” a ballet set to Duke Ellington’s jazz; and “Pas de Duke,” a modern riff on a pas de deux, also set to the Duke’s music.
On Jamison’s “Best Of” program, she has combined Twyla Tharp’s “The Golden Section” with Robert Battle’s duet, “Unfold,” and Camille Brown’s “The Groove to Nobody’s Business.” “Best Of” also closes with “Revelations.”
While the other contemporary choreographers on the “Best Of” program are well known, Camille Brown’s name may come as a surprise.
According to Jamison, “Camille is an incredibly talented dancer — she used to dance with Ronald K. Brown — and has a really good future.”
Brown — who spoke with GO Brooklyn after returning home from dancing with Rennie Harris’s troupe in Newcastle, England — said the grant to create this piece, which came in part from the Joyce Theater, “made a huge difference. There’s not too much funding for dance. It means a lot to have them believe in my work and produce my work. It’s so encouraging.”
Showing “Groove” in Brooklyn will also be a kind of homecoming to Brown.
“I’ve performed in that big, beautiful theater — as a dancer,” said the 28-year-old Queens resident. “To have that kind of exposure for my own work — I’m really in shock.”
A former student of the Ailey School, Brown said that she was thrilled to create a piece for Ailey dancers, several of whom were well known to her — “They were seniors when I was a freshmen, and to see these people do my work, it’s amazing to me!”
Brown hopes “Groove” will be embraced by anyone who has dealt with public transportation.
“It’s a theatrical look at what happens on the subway to strangers every day,” she said. “The train or bus doesn’t come, people get annoyed. There are nice — or not so nice — interactions.”
“Everyone in Brooklyn will understand,” confirmed Jamison. “You’re waiting for the local train, and it goes right on past you. You’re leaning over the track, it’s an express and there it goes. It’s about anyone who waits on it patiently and throws up their hands.”
The BAM performances will be an opportunity to see the work of this rising star as well as a chance to see Ailey’s “Masekela Langage,” which Jamison believes has been out of the company’s repertory for a decade. She was one of the dancers Ailey set the work on in 1969, and recalled its anguished origins.
“Apartheid was going on hot and heavy, and there was a story about a [Black] Panther being messed with in California, and [Ailey] was appalled,” said Jamison. “He wanted to make a statement about how outraged he was and how these people were under the thumb of a regime … Out came ‘Masekela’ with the frustration and sadness of a people who are not free. And the music [by Hugh Masekela] of course sets it in one of those clubs where economically poor people in townships would go on the weekends to have a good time. It was hot. And with the dirt floors and tin roof, it was rudimentary. ‘Masekela’ showed the strength of the young people. It’s a testament to their strength and their tenacity to become free from the shackles of apartheid.”
No doubt Jamison will share more of her riveting memories — of the making of these works, and the Ailey company’s early, low-budget days of “multitasking” props from other works to create new ones and shopping costumes when there wasn’t cash to have them custom-made — during the Q&A she’ll do with Camille Brown, moderated by Ronald K. Brown, following the June 5 performance.
“When I found out he would moderate, I was too tickled,” said Jamison, admitting that they’re such good friends they might have trouble keeping it “serious.”
There’s no doubt that the Ailey company’s week at BAM will have it’s solemn moments, but it will be riddled with the joyful passion, history and artistry that has fueled their fans for so many decades. And hopefully, their next visit won’t be decades away.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform the “Classic Ailey” and “Best Of” programs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene) June 3 through June 8. Tickets are $20-$70. A Q&A with Artistic Director Judith Jamison and choreographer Camille Brown, moderated by choreographer Ronald K. Brown, will follow the June 5 performance. For more information, call (718) 636-4100 or visit www.bam.org. For more information about Alvin Ailey’s 50th anniversary season, visit www.alvinailey.org.