Ailey structured the work’s many short sections to make the Mass visible—Kyrie, Gloria, Act of Contrition, Scripture reading, the whole kaboodle. This congregation moves in synchrony, and its symmetrical formations—often with the priest at its center—suggest church architecture, while some group patterns set in motion the lines a choir stands in. However, A. Christina Giannini designed costumes that, though elegantly and subtly designed, are fit for a tropical revue. The priest (Amos J. Machanic Jr. in the cast I saw) wears a full, dark cassock with a purple stole, but most of the time, the other six men wear pants and loose shirts of pink or pink with beige, while the women are garbed in long blue skirts with strapless yellow overdresses. When they whirl back and forth across the stage, they look like bright-plumaged birds.

It’s not only the costumes that evoke musical numbers, despite the many gestures of prayer and worship. Much of the time, the dancers face front and aim their dancing at the audience. But there’s another aspect to the simple patterning and vivid colors. The stage brings to mind folk paintings of rituals—every figure and pose legible.

Solos stand for personal utterance. Briana Reed, clad in white, dances the Lord’s Prayer to sweet music, straining upward from the floor like the male soloist in Revelations’s “I Want To Be Ready.” And the biblical tale of Lazarus and the rich man is enacted wittily. Once resurrected, poor Lazarus (Antonio Douthit) becomes full of his own holiness, wearing it like a prize-winning costume, and refusing (for a while anyway) to pardon the groveling, burning-in-hell rich man (Yannick Lebrun) who’d refused him food and shelter.

The New York City Ballet in Mauro Bigonzetti's "Luce Nascosta"
Paul Kolnik
The New York City Ballet in Mauro Bigonzetti's "Luce Nascosta"
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater men in Ronald K. Brown's "Dancing Spirit"
Paul Kolnik
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater men in Ronald K. Brown's "Dancing Spirit"

Details

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
212-721-6500
April 27 through June 27

American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
212-362-6000
May 17 through July 3

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn
718-636-4100
June 10 through 20

The company dances powerfully, as always, although at the performance I attended, I was surprised to see, especially during the jubilant hosannas of the “Sanctus,” some of the women focusing on doing the steps fully, but not feeling the rapture. Praise god for Hope Boykin!

If you want a work infused with spirituality that also displays every dancer in it as a radiant individual, you need to see Ronald K. Brown’s Dancing Spirit, which is performed between Mary Lou’s Mass and Revelations on the AAADC’s Program A at BAM. This piece, which premiered on the company’s December-January season, is one of Brown’s finest. It’s set to what could be termed an eclectic selection of music by Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Radiohead, and War, but its consistency of feeling and design anchors them all.

The choreography, as in all Brown’s works, is grounded in the earthy, springy, rhythmically sophisticated styles of African dance, with moves more akin to contemporary Western dance fully absorbed and transformed. The nine performers, wearing variously cut white costumes with blue shading, enter one by one on a diagonal, feeding into a simple, richly designed pattern and exiting when they reach the corner. Clifton Taylor’s lighting accentuates their progress beautifully. Only two remain when a new element enters: again, one by one, people dance across the back of the stage, come forward, cross the front, and exit. As it accumulates, we see all the strands at once.

Brown has mastered compositional strategies that were of less interest to Ailey. In Dancing Spirit, he gives us contrapuntal groups and passages in which every person on stage is moving in a private celebration. The dancers rarely focus on the audience, which increases the sense of a community ritual. In this work, it’s not just the occasional prominent figure (like Matthew Rushing) that you marvel at, or the soloist (the beautiful Constance Stamatiou). You see them all—Reed, Boykin, Douthit, Rosalyn Deshauteurs, Guillermo Asca, Glenn Allen Sims, and Abdur-Rahim Jackson—in ways you’ve never quite seen them before. The projected planetary globe that gradually swims out of darkness on the backdrop is not more glowing.

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