Alvin Ailey dancers give Segerstrom audience humanity, heart and 'Revelations'

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Los Angeles Times

Brotherhood. There’s a word glaringly absent from public mood and discourse. But brotherhood is integral to the work of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the company has the idea front and center in two pieces presented Thursday at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.

This multicultural, mostly African American company began its five-show run at Segerstrom with “Exodus,” a 2015 hip-hop work by Philadelphia choreographer Rennie Harris. The arresting opening tableau sets up this contemporary obituary: A dark stage littered with bodies dimly visible and a woman (Hope Boykin), trembling with grief, cradling a lifeless man (Matthew Rushing).

But then there’s towering Jamar Roberts, slow-motion running to comfort her and revive him. The choreographer has said this shirtless figure is his Prometheus, the mythological god who created mankind. In “Exodus,” he is both life-giver and death-deliverer — perhaps, a shepherd.

With a recorded score combining fire-breathing original music from Raphael Xavier and “A New Deal” by Norwegian duo Ost & Kjex, Harris gives the 15 dancers intense yet nuanced phrases of infectious complexity. The stage crackles with spirited and imaginative passages, small and large groupings of fast footwork. There’s nothing flashy here, no head spins or back-breaking jumps. This is about detail.

The dancers shift from street clothes to white tunics and loose pants (costumes by Jon Taylor) as Harris transitions them out of their earthbound insanity. And then — bang! — there’s a gunshot and Rushing recoils, down yet again.

In “No Longer Silent,” Ailey artistic director Robert Battle takes a modernist, little-known 1925 ballet by Czech Jewish composer Erwin Schulhoff and makes a primitive, ritualistic cry in a world where brotherhood is missing.

Channeling Nijinsky’s “Rite of Spring” (or, what we know of it from re-creations), Battle sends 18 dancers scurrying in groups, bodies pulled inward, feet heavy on the floor, barreling along some unseen rail, forming intersecting geometric shapes. Sub-groups drop to the floor and roll like tubes. It recalls drill-team exercises raised to the highest level, with Battle making the most of Schulhoff’s percussive score and jazz-inspired syncopated rhythms. 

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