As dance companies everywhere have struggled to survive the pandemic, Ailey II, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s second company, has endured other kinds of commotion as well.
In July 2020, its artistic director, Troy Powell, was fired after allegations of “inappropriate communication” with adult students in the company’s training program. In September 2021, choreographer Francesca Harper, who started her career as a student at the Ailey School – led by her mother, Denise Jefferson – stepped in to direct the dancers.
The 12-piece troupe is now back on stage at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in Midtown for a full two-week season. On Friday, a mixed bill titled “Dichotomous” – the advertised theme was “contrasting elements and voices” – buzzed with the hopeful and sometimes uncertain energy of a fresh start.
Ailey II operates as a kind of minor league, a stopover on the path from advanced student to full-fledged professional. Watching the outstanding current crop of dancers – most of whom are just 22 years old – is to wonder where they will end up next, and hope they find jobs worthy of their talent, both inside and outside the Ailey organization.
While “Dichotomous” featured several premieres, the surprise hit was an older piece and the first on the program, Robert Battle’s grim and ferocious 2001 “The Hunt.” In one of her smartest creative choices yet, Harper Battle (the artistic leader of the main company) that the work, originally created for a group of men, is performed by a cast of women.
In the resulting edit on Friday, four dancers – Jamaris Mitchell, Hannah Alissa Richardson, Brena Thomas and Rachel Yoo – showed an exciting solidarity, even as they embodied the opposing roles of hunter and hunted. As they communicated in a circle, releasing punches and cries that echoed the recorded percussive score of Les Tambours du Bronx, they seemed to muster strength and stamina through eye contact with each other. Among the other Battle works on the program — an excerpt from “Alleluia” (2002) and the light new “Searchlight” — “The Hunt” felt by far the most vital.
Another revelation was the short duet ‘Saa Magni’, choreographed in 2019 by Yannick Lebrun, a longtime member of the Ailey troupe. On a riveting song of the same name by Malian singer Oumou Sangaré, the petite, expansive Meagan King and her kind partner, Christopher Taylor, let the warmth and sadness of the music guide them. A sense of romantic longing
grew heavier towards the end as King, who appeared on the verge of tears, draped himself over Taylor’s shoulder and they retreated into the darkness.
An excerpt from William Forsythe’s “Enemy in the Figure” (1989), which concluded the first act, served as a nice showcase for high-speed windings and other technical feats. (Harper danced with Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt in the 1990s.) Of the nine dancers, Richardson, with her clear and calm authority, and Amar Smalls, who alternated with breathtaking ease between speed and silence, were the star, both alone and as equally intense. partners.
The two newest works, Battle’s “Searchlight” and Harper’s “Freedom Series”, which made up the second half of the program, were also the most underdeveloped. Inspired by Harper’s relationship with her mother, the six-minute “Searchlight” seemed to end before it even began, with a whisper of an allusion to their cross-generational connection, amid much busy ensemble work,
“Freedom Series,” a series of vignettes with sci-fi undertones, also felt unfinished, with an oddly abrupt ending. But here at least the 11 dancers seemed more settled, as if Harper had met them on their wavelength and brought out their strengths. (Richardson, Taylor and Elijah Lancaster, in particular, sparkled in their solo moments.) In an eclectic musical collage, the dancers flowed together and spread out with glowing orbs in hand, sometimes using the props to illuminate each other. They seemed immersed in their world and happy to be there together, which might be achievement enough after the past two years.
Through April 3 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater; alvinailey.org