Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Premieres Two New Works at City Center

The 65th anniversary season presents many of the company’s greatest dances along with two lustrous world premieres.

A male dancer holds a female dancer with her splayed legs stretched
Caroline Dartey and James Gilmer in ‘Me, Myself and You’ choreographed by Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish. Photo: Paul Kolnik

On December 16, the audience around me was happily bustling about—waving, hugging—before the evening show, fully aware of what they were in for: a beloved classic, a new production of an old favorite, and two premieres. The house was packed with Alvin Ailey fans, cool and cosmopolitan, so many donning shiny pants, leather and big earrings that I feared I had missed a “suggested attire” memo. There was beauty all around.

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The first premiere, former Ailey dancer Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish’s duet Me, Myself and You (2023), opened the show that evening. Roxas-Dobrish, born in Manila, was the Company’s first Filipina member, and a principal dancer from 1984-1997. After coming to NYC in 1979, she studied at The Joffrey Ballet, The Graham School and The Ailey School. She also performed with The Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Ohad Naharin and Joyce Trisler Danscompany, as well as on Broadway in The King and I as Eliza. She knows her stuff.

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The new duet is set to Damien Sneed and Brandie Sutton’s haunting rendition of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” The program notes that this is a dance about reminiscence, conjuring “the memories of love and passion for a woman asking herself if she should let go or forge ahead.” I was not surprised when the woman (Alisha Rena Peek) begins with some very emotive gestures, her long silver robe shining under Yi-Chung Chen’s dreamy lighting. She runs over to a set piece that opens into a trifold mirror, as if she’s just remembered something or is looking for something more than her reflection. But when a man appears from out of the darkness—like a memory—things get interesting. The man (Michael Jackson, Jr.) holds her, lifts her, carries her gently. They clearly know each other and waste no time. She tosses off the robe to reveal a short, black nightgown beneath.

A female dancer in a long white dress with long sleaves kicks her leg high in the air
Constance Stamatiou in Ailey classic ‘Cry’. Photo: Paul Kolnik

One interesting moment of partnering reminded me of figure skating: Jackson, Jr. holds Peek under the arms as she spins in a second position plie, pointed toes barely skimming the floor. Less appealing are the pleading gestures and dramatic arches. But Peek is a stunning performer, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. It was as if the man wasn’t there at all, which he wasn’t really. He was only ever her memory. And while the piece is perhaps overly sentimental at times, it is also profound—I keep thinking about it, days later—and universally appealing. We all have our behind-the-mirror memories. We all know exactly what it feels like to wrap ourselves around them and then watch them disappear again.

Following the duet was Cry (1971), the classic Alvin Ailey dance created for Judith Jamison as a birthday present for his mother, danced beautifully by Constance Stamatiou. “Well, that was amazing,” the woman sitting next to me and I said at the same time, right after.

Next was the new production of Ode (2019/2023), former Ailey dancer Jamar Roberts’ powerful meditation on gun violence, restaged by Ghrai DeVore-Stokes with a strong all-female cast. Samantha Figgins gave a heartbreaking performance and Jacquelin Harris, as always, was exquisite.

A group of dancers in earth tone costumes performs in front of a floral background
‘Ode’, choreographed by Jamar Roberts. Photo: Paul Kolnik

Closing out the night was the second world premiere: Amy Hall Garner’s CENTURY (2023). Garner is a graduate of The Juilliard School, and her work has been commissioned by New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, ABT Studio Company and BalletX, among many others. She was also the personal coach to Beyoncé for The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. That deserves repeating: she coached Beyoncé.

Garner is the first awardee of the new Ailey Artist in Residence program. The ensemble piece, her first for the Company, is inspired by her grandfather—his musical taste and resilient spirit—on the eve of his 100th birthday.

The red curtains open to a gold curtain, shimmering at the back. Count Basie’s “Basie Land” blasts on, and the dancers enter in Susan Roemer’s fabulous, feathery gold and pink costumes. CENTURY is a celebration, and what a celebration it is. For twenty-five minutes, we get to listen to big band jazz hits from greats like Ray Charles, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. And we get to watch the Ailey dancers have pure and incredible fun. What a joy to see this other side of them—playful, sexy, silly. In the third section, set to “Why Your Feet Hurt” by Rebirth Brass Band, Deidre Rogan gives an especially outstanding performance. Isabel Wallace-Green also proves herself to be an exciting addition to the company.

A male dancer holds the hand of a female dancer who is leaping into the air
Jacquelin Harris and Chalvar Monteiro in ‘CENTURY’ choreographed by Amy Hall Garner. Photo: Paul Kolnik

The only stumble, perhaps, is a solo in the middle that has a more solemn tone. It is an understandable ode to Garner’s grandfather but may not be necessary as we feel his essence throughout the rest of the group sections. But then they are back to the party, shimmying and leaping and kicking. Garner’s choreography is quick and jazzy-cool, and I can’t wait to see what she creates next for the Company in her year-long residency.

Alvin Ailey once said, “I want to help show my people how beautiful they are. I want to hold up the mirror to my audience that says this is the way people can be, this is how open people can be.” Both of the Company’s new works accomplish this—sometimes literally, sometimes spiritually, but always bodily. I saw it happen onstage, the rare openness, and felt it in the audience, too. Beauty, beauty everywhere.

Alvin Ailey tickets for its New York City Center 2023 Season are available through December 31. 

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Premieres Two New Works at City Center