...At the end of May, in a commission from the Guggenheim’s “Works & Process” series, Jamar Roberts produced an extraordinary five-minute dance titled “Cooped.” He choreographed, designed, directed, performed, and shot (on an iPad) this “fever dream,” alone, in a basement, surrounded by shadows that seem to close in on him—an effect ingeniously created by a floor lamp and a flashlight. The tense music was composed, arranged, and performed (remotely) by David Watson (bagpipes) and Tony Buck (drums).
Ailey has rightly earned its stripes as one of the nation's best dance companies, not just because of its history, but not in spite of it either. The company doesn't ignore its founder or allow itself to fade into antiquity... Apart from "Revelations," Ailey's 1960 masterpiece that comes standard at the end of every show the late choreographer's company performs in Chicago, this was an entirely new-to-us program of Chicago premieres... It starts with "Busk," by Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton, made in 2009 and added to Ailey's rep last year... Second on the bill, "Ode" (2019) is the latest work from Jamar Roberts, a company dancer recently named choreographer-in-residence (the first in the company's history to hold that title).
Hope Boykin, 20-Year Veteran of Dance Theatre, Prepares for Final Bows. The internationally-acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has returned to the District much to the delight of faithful fans and fittingly during Black History Month, with a mixture of classic favorites, new productions and exciting premiered on the Kennedy Center's Opera House stage for seven performances - now through Feb. 9.
Increasingly, issues ripped from the headlines and our national debates - including race, violence and brutal episodes from history - have come to the fore in the works Battle commissions. Consider Tuesday's local premiere of "Ode," a skillful and delicate treatment of gun violence and its disproportionate claim on black men. "Ode" is by Jamar Roberts, recently named the troupe's first resident choreographer. He's also a standout dancer in the company whose appealingly soft physicality masked his strength in "A Case of You," a romantic duet with the equally effortless Jacqueline Green that both dancers whirled through beautifully, elevating choreographer Judith Jamison's overly sugary concept.
"There's danger in the air, and the character that I portray is supposed to resemble hope at the highest power," said Jeroboam Bozeman, a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, about his role in "Ode." In this powerful new dance created by Jamar Roberts for the company's season at City Center (through Jan. 5), the dancers explore the effects of gun violence to a jazz score by the pianist Don Pullen. In this solo, Mr. Bozeman said he sees himself "kind of like a high priestess," he said. "Someone who oversees, but also has this sense of wisdom. I think about Trayvon Martin. I think about Philando Castile. I think about Sandra Bland. I think about Eric Garner. These are people we lost to police brutality." He admires how Mr. Roberts created such a multilayered, poetic dance about such a brutal subject.
Jamar Roberts, the first ever resident choreographer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, joins us to discuss his first production in that role, "Ode."
Say you're a choreographer and you want to make a dance about gun violence - not a polemical piece but a mournful one. How might you express a grief that's personal and public, and whose source shows no sign of stopping? An obvious option: bodies on the ground. And sure enough, those appear in Jamar Roberts's "Ode," which had its premiere at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at City Center on Tuesday. "Ode" isn't obvious though. It's delicate, daring and heartbreaking.
There are no gunshots in Ode. But it does begin with one dancer lying motionless on the floor, as a piano plays stark, detached chords. The dancer gets up and is eventually joined by five other dancers, in flowing, circular motions. They dance together as an ensemble, but then one dancer falls and crumples to the floor. He's picked up by another dancer, but then two of them fall.
On Wednesday, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater kicks off its five-week holiday season. Jamar Roberts is stepping into the role of Ailey’s first resident choreographer while continuing to perform. Theatergoers come back every year to see “Revelations” and other classics. “We’ve been preparing these pieces for all year, really, and some of them we’ve been doing for many, many reasons, including ‘Revelations,’ for example, so we’re excited,” Roberts said. Roberts has been performing with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater since 2002 when he joined as a teenager. This year, Roberts choreographed the piece “Ode,” which makes its world premiere later this month. “It is a tribute to victims of gun violence. I really wanted to do something really beautiful, so in essence, it’s a poem. I’m not really depicting any one scene in particular, but I really wanted to do something that was gonna really help facilitate healing to most of the communities and families affected,” Roberts said. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s holiday season runs through Jan. 5.
We are live at Works & Process at the Guggenheim with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performing an excerpt from “Ode” a piece choreographed by Ailey’s first resident choreographer Jamar Roberts. A panel discussion led by Marina Harss will feature Robert Battle, Stephanie Batten Bland, Donald Byrd, and Jamar Roberts, as well as Brandon Stirling Baker and Libby Stadstad (lighting and scenic designers for this world premiere work).