At Ailey, a Dance Set to Coltrane Finds a Somber Radiance

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
The New York Times

By Gia Kourlas

John Coltrane and David Byrne aren’t casual choices for a choreographer looking for dance music — at least they shouldn’t be. Yet last week, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater proved that there’s a place for both. Twyla Tharp’s “The Golden Section,” set to music by Mr. Byrne and returning to the repertory this season, still shimmers. True, the dancers need more time to live in the groove of her tricky coordinations — the movement needs to look as though it’s melting off the body — but nothing checks that box faster than performance time.

The surprise came in the somber radiance of Jamar Roberts’s new work, “Members Don’t Get Weary,” which had its premiere on Friday at New York City Center. Clearly Mr. Roberts has grown since last year’s “Gêmeos,” a hectic and hollow creation for Ailey II. Perhaps, for him, a dance like “Members” is what happens when choreographic intention is more important than steps. It has that ease.

A veteran of the Ailey company, Mr. Roberts may be known for his strength and commanding presence as a dancer, but he has a softer side too, and both came through in “Members,” set to two recordings by John Coltrane, “Dear Lord” and “Olé.” The program included a Ralph Ellison quote about the blues being “an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it.” Those words reverberate throughout “Members.”

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