Revelations, a deeply felt and often joyful costume ballet danced to black spirituals, is on the program each night. It was an instant hit when it premièred in 1960, and it is constantly rejuvenated by wave after wave of Ailey's spectacular dancers, with newer members guided by some of the more mature dancers who have been with the company for 20 years or more. Watch for new dancers Hope Boykin, recently defected from Philadanco, and Clifton Brown of Goodyear, who danced with Ballet Arizona.
The dancers are led by the incomparable dancer turned choreographer and artistic director Judith Jamison, who took over after Ailey's death a decade ago. Having been his muse, most memorably for one of the 20th century's classic dances -- her solo Cry -- there hardly seemed anyone better prepared. But the statuesque dancer -- she's 5-foot-10 -- surpassed all expectations. In December 1999, at a star-studded Manhattan fund raiser and celebration of the 10th anniversary of her tenure, she and her board raised $1.7 million. It was also the anniversary of Ailey's death. And though Revelations was danced in his honor, the most exciting work of the evening was Ronald K. Brown's Grace.
Brown's company, Evidence (last seen at Gammage in January), is known for his house dance vocabulary. You'll see little of that in Grace, where he abstracts movement he saw while in residency in the Ivory Coast and mixes it with modern dance and ballet idioms. As with Revelations, Grace concerns itself with spirituality, a kind of journey to the Promised Land. Duke Ellington's Come Sunday underpins the feeling of journey, but Fela Kuti's West African pop gives it its sense of arrival.
Seen on PBS specials (as have been Jamison's Hymn and others of the works), Cry was Ailey's ode to black women, in particular his mother. Renee Robinson and Linda-Denise Evans, the dancers trained by Jamison for her role, replace Jamison's majestic authority with qualities of their own -- inner serenity or sizzling sensuality. The white costuming becomes a canvas for a dancescape drawn from the performers' inner experiences.