The Pick: Revelations, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s gospel-tinged masterpiece

The Pick: Revelations, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s gospel-tinged masterpiece

Kirven James Boyd and Rachael McLaren (Image: Andrew Eccles/Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

In photos, the dancers of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater seem to never touch the ground. Their barely clad bodies, arched and flexed in graceful silhouette, float in suspension like nymphs, untethered from reality. In the flesh, however, their dancing is anything but ethereal—it’s percussive, muscular and totally tied up in the real world.

Modern dance choreographers often insist their work is based around the themes or plots—a piece may claim to be about physics, say, or that old standby, 21st-century anomie. More often than not, though, those frameworks fade into the background as we enjoy the dancers’ bodies in rapturous movement. For New York’s Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre—one of the finest modern dance companies out there—context is everything. The company’s repertoire is rooted in the African-American experience, and brings that culture and history out with ferocious energy.

The company is performing this week at the Sony Centre. The program contains pieces by a number of choreographers (including new artistic director Robert Battle), but the real reason for going is the chance to see Revelations, the company’s signature piece, choreographed in 1960 by Ailey himself. It’s an epic ballet set to gospel and blues music that catalogues the history of black culture in America from slavery up through the pre­–Civil Rights era. Unabashedly spiritual, the tone flits from reverent (the slow, elegant “Fix Me Jesus” pas de deux) to fevered (the athletic “Sinner Man” trio) to joyous (the infectious ensemble piece “Yellow,” set in a sweltering Southern Baptist church). It’s enough to make anyone a believer.

The details: Feb. 2 to 4. $74.75–$96.50. Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front St. E.,