Roberts doesn’t seem to be in a sentimental mood in this opaque work that could have been an interlude in Turner Classic Movies’ “Noir Alley.” It’s overtly cinematic, with a clear message that love is messy, a point Roberts underscores with a quote from James Baldwin in the program: “Love doesn’t begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a struggle, love is a war; love is growing up.”
“Sentimental Mood” was strangely at odds with the other works on the program, which begin with a more upbeat medley: a selection of four short works by Battle, including his most recent, “For Four” (2021), set to music. written by Wynton Marsalis in 4/4 time.
Here, Battle recreates the tightly wound sense of confinement and release as dancers Ashley Kaylynn Green, Patrick Coker, Khalia Campbell and Miranda Quinn enter a world of incessant movement – frenetic and limiting – until a projection of the American flag appears at the back of the stage and slides down, bleeding on stage. The dancers raise crossed fists: it is simultaneously sinking and poignant.
Between the soapy duet “Unfold” (2007), performed with style by Ashley Mayeux and James Gilmer, and the angular, whimsical “Takademe” (1999), we see examples of Battle’s early work. “Takademe” – set to Shelia Chandra’s “Speaking in Tongues II”, a score of syncopated syllables from Indian kathak – bears a telling relationship to “For Four”.
Both are physical responses to sound, full of gestures and bravado. “Takademe”, like the quartet, has a sense of confinement: Battle choreographed it in his living room in Queens, and as performed by Kanji Segawa, it also illuminates the idea of freedom within constraints. In ‘For Four’ Battle enters an area that is less cute. Perhaps he was joking when he said his 11th year as an artistic director was going to be a wild affair. But let’s hope it’s true – and that he will add more bold danger to his choreography, too.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
See you Sunday at the David H. Koch Theater, alvinailey.org.