Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beethoven and Ailey, kindred spirits

Beethoven and Alvin Ailey came from different centuries, cultures and races. But they had a common goal. 

That hit me after an interview with the leader of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which comes to the Knight Theater next week. Robert Battle, the company's artistic director since last fall, never met its late founder. But Battle's familiarity with the company since he was a boy, and more recently his immersion in it, taught him about Ailey's ideals. One of those is: 

"As Mr. Ailey said so eloquently ...  'Dance comes from the people and should always be delivered back to the people,' " Battle said. "Mr. Ailey wanted this company not to be elitist. He wanted the audience to feel they were a part of what is happening on the stage -- either spiritually or just by the sense of openness and humanity in Mr. Ailey's work." 

Battle mentioned that in connection with a work the company will perform in Charlotte. At one point in "Minus 16," by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, dancers go into the auditorium and cajole members of the audience into coming onstage and kicking up their heels. To Battle, that brings Ailey's philosophy to life. 

Ailey's words made me think of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis," which the Charlotte Symphony and Oratorio Singers of Charlotte perform Friday and Saturday. Beethoven attached to his manuscript  a dedication: "From the heart -- may it go to the heart." 

Beethoven wanted his music to unite the performers and audience, just as Ailey wanted dance to do. Beethoven proclaims his vision even more clearly in the Ninth Symphony, with its climactic hymn to human brotherhood in the "Ode to Joy." 

The "Missa Solemnis" and "Revelations" -- Ailey's most famous work, and the finale of every Charlotte performance -- are both spiritual journeys. In the "Missa," the trumpets and drums cut loose in battle scenes that set off the singers' cries of "Have mercy on us!" and their final prayer for peace. In "Revelations," the dancers show us trials and turmoil before their troubles are washed away.  Only a few days apart, Charlotte will get to see the world as    Beethoven and Ailey imagined it. 

"Revelations" photo: Miami Herald