Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater turned 60 this season, and that’s an accomplishment for a company that, like New York City Ballet, lost its founder in the 1980s (Ailey died in 1989) but, unlike NYCB, has had to look beyond its founder for the bulk of its repertoire. The one constant in the troupe’s almost annual Celebrity Series-sponsored Boston visits has been “Revelations,” Alvin Ailey’s 1960 signature work, which closes every performance the company is giving at the Boch Center Wang Theatre this weekend.
Thursday’s bill was rounded out by a pair of choreographers familiar to Boston: Wayne McGregor, whose “Chroma” and “Obsidian Tear” Boston Ballet has staged, and Jessica Lang, who was here with her own company, Jessica Lang Dance, in January 2017. Ailey is the first American company to present “Kairos,” which McGregor created for Ballett Zürich in 2014; “EN” (2018) is the first of Lang’s works that Ailey has done. Both pieces have ambitious titles. “Kairos” is a Greek word that intimates a critical moment in time, or perhaps out of time; Lang describes “en” as “a Japanese word with multiple meanings signifying circle, destiny, fate, and karma.”
The score to “Kairos” is Max Richter’s Vivaldi-lite rearrangement of “The Four Seasons,” in which he turns themes from the quartet of violin concertos into minimalist movie music. Even though McGregor omits the third movement of Richter’s “Spring” and the first of its “Autumn,” the work, at 35 minutes, felt long. And by comparison with “Chroma,” it was McGregor-lite. The strobe lighting at the outset and a scrim dense with music staves did afford some mystery to the first two movements of “Spring.” The three duets were well distinguished: courtly and intense in “Spring,” edgy and uncertain in “Autumn,” mating-curious in “Winter.” “Summer” brought a wealth of gestural counterpoint in the first movement (and you could hear Vivaldi’s cuckoo), a quintet of supportive and affectionate men in the languid second, and then the arrival of five ladies and some energetic pairing off.
But McGregor’s choreography, like Richter’s score, meanders to no apparent conclusion. And though the movement of “Kairos” is exciting to watch, it’s not memorable. Ailey’s dancers brought a lush muscularity to “Chroma”; here, made anonymous by the dim lighting, they had less to work with.
Lang’s “EN” comprises three sections — fast, slow, fast — to a rhythmic, percussion-heavy score by Jakub Ciupinski. A small bright sphere, like a full moon, hung overhead; a much larger disc, black and backlit, formed the backdrop. During the chiming second section, the moon descended, and the dancers swung it back and forth.
The piece had the feel of a rite, an invocation to some deity (a moon goddess?), and the processional groupings and tableaux Lang formed from her white-clad dancers — now enigmatic, now propitiatory — reminded me of Jerome Robbins’s “Antique Epigraphs.” When the dancers broke into small groups, with much running on and off stage, the choreography became less distinctive. “EN” ends with a solitary male dancer approaching the disc. Perhaps he’s the goddess’s chosen one.
There’s no perhaps about “Revelations,” which trumps “Kairos” and “EN” both horizontally (human to human) and vertically (human to God). The first section, “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” was passionate Thursday, with its gull-winged angels-in-training and an anguished “Fix Me, Jesus” duet from Akua Noni Parker and Jamar Roberts. The jubilation of “Wade in the Water” and the concluding “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” felt more rote. But Ailey’s choreography is hardly less contemporary than McGregor’s or Lang’s, and it shows off his dancers’ loose-jointed volubility and upper-body expressiveness. “Revelations” was where his dancers looked most like themselves. Of the three works on the program, it was this one, age 59, that seemed truly timeless.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. At Boch Center Wang Theatre, May 2. Repeats May 3-5. Tickets $35-$85. 800-982-2787, www.celebrityseries.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org