Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in a reimagining of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Credit: Travis Magee

The past year has been full of uncertainty and strife—the pandemic, racial violence, police misconduct and environmental crisis. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is releasing a cinematic work, in partnership with Cal Performances at UC Berkeley, that speaks to all these issues, offering an artistic salve to audiences in these trying times. 

“The strain that the pandemic has put on our society has not only exposed a deluge of disparities all over the world, but it has also highlighted who and what needs to be taken care of,” says Jamar Roberts, an Ailey dancer and resident choreographer whose work Holding Space is featured in the program. “The artwork that is being made in regards to these issues is in essence a form of caretaking. These performances help to bring visibility and give voice to those who so desperately need to be heard at this moment in time.” 

Founded by famed choreographer Alvin Ailey in New York, the Ailey company, which has been lauded for its diverse dancers and representation of the African American experience, has had roots in the Berkeley community for over 50 years. Since 1968, the company has collaborated yearly with UC Berkeley, performing a weeklong repertoire at Zellerbach Hall on campus, leading movement workshops and participating in public forums. Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp has taught dance classes to teenagers in the East Bay since 2002. The company’s annual residency was canceled this year due to the pandemic, so they are offering a dance film as an accessible and safe alternative to share their vision.  

The video program begins with Roberts’ Holding Space, a new work that provides a commentary on the devastating effect of police misconduct, health disparities and gun violence on Black communities. While referencing difficult issues, Roberts aims to provide audiences with “a sense of hope.” He says, “In the midst of all that is going in the world, we can strive to find and nurture a space within ourselves and our communities. That truly gives us hope for a brighter future.” 

The dance film also includes reprisals of Alvin Ailey’s work, including his classic Revelations. To accommodate the necessity of social distancing, the company edited together film footage of Alvin Ailey and Company from 60 years ago with current dancers performing at the Wave Hill Public Garden & Cultural Center in New York.

The final element of the video program is a contemporary rendition of Alvin Ailey’s Cry, a 16-minute solo performed by dancer Constance Stamatiou. Cry, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, was Alvin Ailey’s birthday gift to his mother, dedicated to “all Black women everywhere – especially our mothers.” The reprisal is set to the Voices of East Harlem singing “Right On, Be Free.” 

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s Constance Stamatiou in a new film adaptation for the 50th anniversary of Alvin Ailey’s Cry. Credit: Christopher Duggan

“During the beginning of the pandemic, the world watched George Floyd being murdered. …We heard a child cry out for his mother. The world in anguish, tired of the relentless killings of unarmed BIPOC, came together to demand change, to demand accountability,” says Stamatiou. “As a mother myself, I think about how spot on Mr. Ailey was with his depiction of motherhood. The joy, the hardships, the love and the anxiety, that all comes with motherhood.” 

The diverse program with a modulation of themes and histories has the capacity to stimulate critical thinking, inspire action and generate movement. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s collaboration with Cal Performances at UC Berkeley aims to instill emotion and a sense of purpose in its audience members. 

“I hope people leave each performance anew. I want them to be able to connect and be moved by the performance. To go on a journey with the dancers, explore and reflect upon their experiences. To receive others’ views and others’ pain and be inspired by their persistence and their unity,” says Stamatiou. “I want them to walk out the theater uplifted, more humane.” 

The digital performance will be released on Thursday, June 10, at 7 p.m. with a debut watch party. It will be available to view on demand for three months until Sept. 8, 2021. $15 for a single viewer. $5 tickets are available for UC Berkeley students.

Also this week:

LGBT SHORT FILMS Watch three short films celebrating LGBT Pride Month hosted by the Albany FilmFest in partnership with Alameda County Library. Friday, June 11. 1-2:30 p.m. Free. 

VIRTUAL CARNIVAL Visit parenting resource BANANAS online for Virtual Unpeeled: The Ultimate Children’s Event featuring performances from musicians and storybook authors, singing, and dancing. Saturday, June 12. 11-12 p.m.  Free.

CHINESE OPERA Join Berkeley Public Library for part two of their Decoding Chinese Opera workshop. Learn about what makes Chinese theatre beautiful and how opera relates to Disney animation, drag, and Las Vegas-style stage magic. Saturday, June 12. 1-2:30 p.m. Free.