Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater ‘Program A’ at The Kennedy Center by Carolyn Kelemen

Alvin Ailey American Dance Celebrates Rich Heritage at the Kennedy Center

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater “came home” to the Kennedy Center last night, dancing a program of familiar works, a true celebration of the company’s rich heritage. True, Ailey’s troupe is based in New York City – the recent City Center engagement broke all records for attendance – still it was here on the Opera House stage where Alvin Ailey received prestigious awards and his company, accolades. And it was in Washington where his Revelations, a tribute to Alvin Ailey’s African American heritage, was performed for three US Presidential Inaugurations – John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton – and at a 2009 Washington benefit with President Obama in the audience.

'Chroma': With Alicia Graf Mack and . Photo by Paul Kolnik.
‘Chroma’: With Alicia Graf Mack and Vernard J. Gilmore. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

“I am excited for our Kennedy Center season as I consider it my home theater,” Columbia native Alicia Graf Mack wrote in an email just hours before the show. Her friends (and family members) regularly attend Ailey shows, as do those of the other five locals who return each season, among them, Elisa Clark, Ghrai DeVore, Daniel Harder, Jacqueline Green, and Jermaine Terry.

It was an early curtain last night with an after-show party scheduled upstairs at The Kennedy Center. Decked out in their finest attire, folks came late, of course, due to the weather, mostly, but a few were unaware of the 7 p.m. call. After a few thank-you speeches and the settling down of the audience, director Robert Battle chatted up the crowd and described what they were about to see. Not surprisingly, most were interested in the closing piece, Revelations, but the more serious balletomanes looked forward to the area debut of Chroma, created by Wayne McGregor of London’s Royal Ballet.

“I love the challenge of performing this work,” Alicia noted in the email, “and D-Man in the Water is also very special because it is one of Bill T. Jones’ signature works.” Both were danced last night, and, as expected, the tall, lithe ballerina-turned-modern dancer (who has been seen on posters throughout the world) wowed us in both pieces, although she was amazing in the first duet.

Chroma is fascinating to watch with a white background and a portal at the back that changes colors, designed by John Pawson. Another interesting aspect is the music, a contemporary collage by Jack White and Joby Talbot. New costumes in tones of pink, rose and ecru, the ballet somehow represents what Ailey’s troupe is all about – dancers of all colors and backgrounds working together to create magic.

At times it’s too acrobatic for the purists, but why not show off those hyperextended back bends or slinky movements that only an Ailey dancer can pull off. Alicia Graf Mack, dancing with Vernard J. Gilmore (who is just about as tall as the nearly 6 foot ballerina) captured the sleek style of this British choreographer. It was almost a puzzle of a dance but one that keep us fascinated and ready for another viewing. Kudos to the 10-member ensemble for superb dancing, and a nod to Costume Designer Moritz Junge and lighting specialist by Lucy Carter.

'D-Man in the Waters.' Photo by Paul Kolnik.
‘D-Man in the Waters.’ Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Bill T. Jones’ D-Man in the Waters, is a true classic modern dance and a New York Dance and Performance (“Bessie”) Award-winning work. It is a celebration of life and the resiliency of the human spirit that guides audiences through loss, hope and triumph. Set to Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings in E-flat Major, Op. 20, Ailey’s opening night performance was especially poignant. Before curtain, Robert Battle told the audience that Bill T. Jones had made a special announcement of Alvin Ailey’s death 25 years ago on that same stage, that same night the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company was making its debut.

D-Man In the Waters (Part I) fits the company well, and the nine dancers (all dressed in various shades of blue) performed with clarity and sensitivity – Alicia, among the cast.

'Revelations.' Photo by Nan Melville.
‘Revelations.’ Photo by Nan Melville.

Program A concluded with Revelations, of course (as it does in each of the Kennedy Center performances through the weekend). With its floppy hats and synchronized swinging umbrellas, the jazzy ballet is set to a foot-stomping medley of gospel songs. Folks typically jump to their feet to cheer the dancers after performances of “Run, Sinner Man” and “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” but last night shed a light on dancers who are often missed in the headlines. Antonoi Douthit-Boyd moved us in “I Wanna Be Ready” and Linda Celeste Sims with Glenn Allen Sims captured Ailey’s “Fix Me, Jesus” like nobody else.

Running Time: Two hours, with two-15-minute intermissions.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs three distinctive programs at the Kennedy Center through Sunday, February 9, 2014 at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.


Notes from Alicia Graf Mack:

Alicia and Daisha Graf.
Alicia and Daisha Graf.

Her sister Daisha Graf had recently signed a recording contract with Epic Records under L.A. Reid. She is currently working on her album but has released a buzz record on the internet. You can listen and download her first single, Reborn, from

Here is more info on Daisha.

“We have created an organization called Daisha and Alicia Graf Arts Collective. trade name is D(n)A Arts. We will be hosting our 2nd annual Made to Move Intensive on August 30th in NYC. People can find us on Facebook or on our website


  1. Yay Carolyn! Thanks for sharing an outstanding review by an outstanding critic on an outstanding performance by an outstanding company! Love, Barbara

  2. I attended the show at the Kennedy center in D.C. For the second time since Mr. Battle took over, I have been extremely disappointed. I did not stay for Revelations. The dancers are now all over the place. There are too many people on the stage doing too many things. I was shocked to see the regular every day clothes. Especially the khaki looking pants with pockets on the back. The music was more Opera. The music use to stand out. We need Judith back or the legacy of Alvin Ailey will go up in flames.


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