Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's New Jersey natives Chalvar Monteiro and Christopher Taylor are excited to perform at NJPAC
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, America’s beloved cultural ambassador to the world, completes its 22-city coast-to-coast North American tour at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) Friday-Sunday, May 12-14.
Led by Artistic Director Robert Battle, Ailey returns to the NJPAC stage for the 24th time with exciting premieres, a powerful new production, and repertory favorites including Alvin Ailey’s must-see American masterpiece Revelations.
Battle and two New Jersey native Ailey dancers Chalvar Monteiro (Montclair) and Christopher Taylor (Newark) joined WBGO News Director Doug Doyle to talk about the Mother's Day weekend performances.
The “Classic Ailey” program (Sat., May 13, 8pm) highlights the new production of Survivors (1986), Alvin Ailey’s impassioned tribute to the profound courage and terrible anguish of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, which will be seen this season for the first time since 1988.
Robert Battle, now in his 11th year as Artistic Director, is excited to see Survivors performed on the NJPAC stage.
"I've been wanting to bring back that work that Alvin Ailey created and hasn't been seen in over 30 years. The struggles against apartheid. The ballet takes place just as Nelson Mandela is about to be thrown in jail. It was an expression of Alvin Ailey's rage over the situation, and how that situation sort of reflected racism in our own country. Survivors shakes you up a bit. He doesn't necessarily leave you resolved. At that time, we didn't know if Mandela would be released. It was a life sentence. I think it's important that we understand that Alvin Ailey was ahead of his time, that before the notion of Black Lives Matter became a verbal statement, it was an embodiment of the type of work that Alvin Ailey did and the type of leaders and freedom fighters that he wanted to reflect on that stage. It's incredible seeing this work come back to life."
A soundtrack of Max Roach’s richly varied drumming and Abbey Lincoln’s powerful vocals sets the emotional tone for Survivors. This program also features two Alvin Ailey classics set to the musical genius of Duke Ellington: Reflections in D, a strong yet serene solo known to highlight the grace, artistry, and power of the male dancer and Night Creature, a bubbly champagne cocktail of a dance that perfectly fuses Ailey’s buoyant choreography and Duke Ellington’s sparkling music.
Audiences will have two opportunities to experience the “New Jersey Premieres” program (Fri., May 12, 8pm and Sun., May 14 at 3pm), featuring acclaimed choreographer Kyle Abraham’s Are You in Your Feelings?, a celebration of Black culture, Black music, and the youthful spirit that perseveres in us all. Scored to a “mixtape” of soul, hip-hop, and R&B from beloved musical artists like Jhené Aiko, Drake, Lauryn Hill, Kendrick Lamar, Jazmine Sullivan, and Summer Walker, the critically applauded work explores the connections among music, communication, and personal memory. The program also welcomes In a Sentimental Mood, an intimate scene from the domestic life of a couple that becomes an exploration of love and desire. The work is set to an original composition by Duke Ellington and four jazz standards given an avant-garde twist by composer Rafiq Bhatia.
Montclair, New Jersey's own Chalvar Monteiro, who has been with Ailey since 2015, continues his leading role in two of the World Premiere performances. What is he feeling as a dancer when the music begins?
"For me, it's been really healing this tour to be able to tell a story that Jamar Roberts constructed where the love, the relationship is a bit fraught. There's a fracture in communication, humanizing or even romanticizing emotional unavailability and the ripples it has in the relationship. And the jumping to Kyle Abraham's work where it's more of a vibe in the love. The relationship is more easy going. There's a lot more of a back and forth. There's a community built into it. So the ripples of that love echo through eight or nine other dancers. It's been really nice to see how we've all grown and settled in to both of those works."
It will be quite a homecoming for Christopher Taylor as he makes his NJPAC debut. He officially joined Ailey last year and is a product of the inaugural AileyCamp in Newark.
"It's very special. I grew up in Newark, watching "Ailey" at NJPAC. I've seen Revelations a thousand times. I was a little kid wanting to be a part of it after seeing how magnificent it is to have these wonderful bodies on stage that looked like me. I'm just honored and humbled."
Taylor realizes there will be children in the NJPAC audience who will be looking at him as a role model. He takes that role very seriously.
"I take it head on with humbleness and grace. It is very powerful to be an example for your city and other kids. Dancers in the company that I saw in Newark is the reason why I'm here. Inspiration goes a long way when you allow it to fuel you in your lowest times. So, it's a huge responsibility."
Taylor gives credit to Robert Battle for being a fearless and emotional leader.
You can SEE my entire interview with Battle, Taylor and Monteiro here.