Ailey II preserves African-American heritage through modern dance

Reading Time: 3 minutes The dance company Ailey II performed the world-famous modern dance piece “Revelations” which captures the essence of the culture of the African American rural south.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Alvin Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in the 1950s as a way to express and preserve his heritage as a Black man in America. He overcame insurmountable odds to spread the legacy of Black Americans everywhere. We continue to celebrate that legacy today because of what he accomplished.

In 2008, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was recognized by the United States Congress as a “vital American cultural ambassador to the World,” and Ailey’s masterpiece “Revelations” is one of the most popular and most performed modern dances in the world.

An extension of this iconic dance company, Ailey II took to the stage of the Smith Theatre to perform this remarkable piece of not only modern dance music but American cultural history as well. Ailey II fosters some of the world’s greatest emerging talents in dance.

As of September 2021, Francesca Harper took the helm as Artistic Director. She continues to keep Ailey’s message alive. Their purpose, as stated by Harper in the short documentary “Ailey II: Legacy Shaping the Future of Dance,” is about the continual process of “legacy shaping the future.” She fulfills this purpose not only by teaching Ailey’s monumental pieces but by elevating the company with her own contributions.

The night began with one of Harper’s original compositions entitled “Freedom Series.” It explores the past and how it reaches into the future, connecting to the company’s purpose. It is at times forlorn but also tender. The techno music added an intense and ethereal element to it like these memories were just on the edge of exploding into existence.

The next two pieces were shorter but very powerful. The first, “Takademe,” is a solo. It is a humorous piece that requires a lot of character on the dancer’s part in order to bring it to life, which Jaryd Farcon did excellently. 

The second piece, “The Hunt,” was originally made for male dancers, but Harper substituted it with female dancers. It is an exhilarating piece that is full of ferocity, fueled by a thundering percussion soundtrack. Meagan King, Kali Marie Oliver, Tamia Strickland and Maggy van den Heuvel performed this piece wonderfully.

Revelations” closed off the performance, proving just as relevant and effective as the day it premiered in 1960. The composition honors Ailey’s cultural heritage as an African American by drawing upon gospel music and invoking the rural south. It transcends time, proving that Harper is correct in how legacy shapes the future. 

It touches upon universal themes and emotions that leave an impact on anyone who watches these dancers in action. Their movements touch upon the deepest feelings of sorrow, worship and hope, outwardly exploring what is usually only experienced on the inside. There is no wonder why “Revelations” has left such a long-lasting impression on the world.

Those in attendance hailed the dance company with praise throughout the famous composition. It is a dance that encourages audience participation, and many in the crowd were roused to clap along, dance in their seats and to call out to the dancers when they were particularly impressed. By the end everyone was immersed in the spectacle and joining in. At the behest of the crowd through a standing ovation, the company performed an encore and only then did they leave the stage.

The legacy of Alvin Ailey will continue to live on and affect the lives of generations because of people like Francesca Harper who work to build up the community Ailey began by teaching the next generation of great dancers. Ailey II displays some of the best creative vision in dance, tapping into the past to bring everyone a message that will lead to a brighter future.