Ailey Does Kylián, I Die of Happiness

The dream team: Alicia Graf Mack and Jamar Roberts in "Petite Mort." Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Last night, I was able to snag a ticket to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s “season preview” performance, a sampler of works from their upcoming New York City Center season. There was an excerpt from From Before, an earthy, polyrhythmic company premiere by legend Garth Fagan. There was the spankin’ new Another Night by up-and-comer Kyle Abraham, set to Dizzy Gillespie’s get-up-and-go jazz. Both pieces felt like classic AAADT fare: Vibrant, electric, seriously charismatic. Both, in other words, showed the audience a good time.

But when the company performed part of Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, I almost lost my mind.

Are you already a Kylián fan? If not, it’s time to get educated, and videos of Petite Mort are a fine place to start. (If you’re a fan of “Breaking Pointe,” it’ll look familiar—the show included footage of Ballet West’s recent performances of the piece.) Kylián, who was the director of Nederlands Dans Theater for decades, has a sleek, calligraphic style. He’s especially gifted when it comes to partnering—his pas de deux are fantastically knotty and yet seamless strings of shapes. His path from point A to point B is never the obvious way, but eventually it feels like the only way.

Petite Mort is technically fiendish, and for that reason it’s usually performed by top-notch ballet companies. Ailey dancers all have solid ballet training, but I wondered if this work might be a little out of their comfort zone.

How silly of me. The entire cast looked wonderful, with Jamar Roberts and Alicia Graf Mack shining especially bright. What a gorgeous, impossibly long-limbed, elegant dream team! Alicia used to be the star of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Jamar has danced with Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Petite Mort showed off all their best classical qualities—those lines!—but they, and the rest of the Ailey cast, also brought a unique richness to the piece. These dancers weren’t just taught how to move; they were born to move.

Ailey performs Petite Mort for the first time on December 7th. Get thee to New York City Center! (And for information about the rest of the season, click here.)

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