The two new dances the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed in its opening Miami show — Wayne McGregor’s contemporary ballet Chroma, with its daringly skewed geometry, and Ronald K. Brown’s pulsing Afro-spiritual ritual, Four Corners — were studies in contrast. But they were tied together by the intensity and vitality of the dancers, bursting out in new ways as artistic director Robert Battle expands the troupe’s repertoire.
Liberty City native Battle gave his usual jocular opening speech from the stage of the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House on Thursday night. "You know I’m from here, right? Or do you just like me?," he told the enthusiastic crowd. But his intentions for the company are clearly serious.
Chroma was the more radical departure. Created for England’s Royal Ballet, it exudes an icy cool atmosphere and is filled with angular ballet pyrotechnics that are a world away from the earthy soulfulness of Revelations, the troupe’s signature piece.
Chroma takes place inside John Pawson’s stunning set, a soaring, ceiling-high white box with a square cut out in back through which dancers enter and exit, illuminated by Lucy Carter lighting that shifts from blinding florescence to shades of pale.
Inside this sci-fi lightbox, the 10 dancers, wearing Moritz Junge’s filmy pastel tops and tiny shorts, seem etched in space. They hurl themselves into wildly angled arabesques and tilts, limbs windmilling precisely, then seamlessly segue into twisting hips and snaking spines, lines constantly shifting to curves. The dancers’ intensity enabled them to sharply etch the shape and quality of the movement despite its speed and density. The music by Jack White III (of The White Stripes) and Joby Talbot shifted from dissonant orchestrated rock to plaintive strings and piano.
Linda Celeste Sims radiated fervor in an opening duet with Antonio Douthit-Boyd, while Sean A. Carmon, Kirven Douthit-Boyd and Yannick Lebrun rocketed through a fierce, sinuous, voguing-inspired trio. Alicia Graf Mack, with her endless limbs, sky-scraping arabesques, graceful technique and fearlessness, made her duet with Vernard J. Gilmore a highlight. Chroma builds to a not-quite-coherent climax; still, it’s always compelling.
Brown’s Four Corners, the fifth piece he’s made for the Ailey troupe, was more familiar territory. What felt fresh was the sense of joyful, exuberant ease with which the 11 dancers performed Brown’s pulsing mix of African and modern dance, their torsos moving in a seamless, curving flow that rippled out to their arms and legs. The movement was simpler than in Brown’s Grace, his most beloved work for Ailey, but the dancers’ naturalness and commitment kept it compelling, propelled by Carl Hancock Rux’s engaging Afro-funk-jazz score.
Brown based Four Corners on a passage from the New Testament book of Revelation about four warrior angels at the four corners of the world, and on an idea of a spiritual journey to overcome grief and oppression. The magnificently commanding Sims and the more gently authoritative Matthew Rushing were the angels, along with Belen Pereya and Glenn Allen Sims. Garbed in Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya’s flowing dresses, turbans and pants, the four come together in a watchful circle and lead the other dancers in spiraling lines and patterns. By the end, Four Corners felt like a call to battle, leading to an exhilarating ritual celebration.
The soul of Revelations, which closed the program, was Rushing, filled with emotion and intention in the yearning “I Wanna Be Ready" solo and grinning with pleasure as he partnered Mack to lead the "Move, Members, Move" finale.