This year’s Alvin Ailey residency at Cal includes local premieres  

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Caroline Dartey and James Gilmer perform in Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish's "Me Myself and You." (Photo by Paul Kolnik/Courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

New York-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s five programs in Berkeley next week reflect the company’s collaborative 55-year relationship with Cal Performances.

Known for works steeped in jazz, blues and hip hop that reflect the African-American experience, the 65-year-old contemporary troupe’s annual residency April 2-7 offers two Bay Area premieres and two new productions of revivals.

“Whenever we come to Zellerbach, we always want to bring something new as far as what has recently come into our repertory,” says AAADT Associate Artistic Director Matthew Rushing, adding, “We also collaborate with Cal Performances to see if there’s an interest they have, and then we come up with the programs.”

Matthew Rushing is associate artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. (Photo by Andrew Eccles/ Courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

Upcoming performances at what Rushing calls AAADT’s second home exemplify founder Alvin Ailey’s (1931-1989) commitment to accessibility and notion that dance came from the people and should be delivered back to the people. 

“I have heard that mantra for decades, and now that I am part of leadership, I am understanding it at a deeper level, with that idea behind the longevity, power and impact that the Ailey company has on people,” says Rushing, who joined AAADT as a dancer at 17.

Program A includes the local premiere of 2023’s “Me, Myself and You” by former company dancer Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish, and set to music by Duke Ellington. The duet, inspired by the choreographer’s own experiences dancing, was commissioned by former AAADT Artistic Director Robert Battle.  

“One of the beautiful things about Elizabeth’s dancing was that she loved partnering, and she wanted to focus on creating a pas de deux ballet that really centered on partnering and the idea of love…. As popular as love is, you can never run out of ways to articulate and celebrate it,” says Rushing.

Company member Caroline Dartey portrays a woman reminiscing about a past lover. She dances before a mirror, which may represent the limits between reality and imagination.

“The piece demands not only technique but also a good connection with your partner,” says Dartey. “It gave me the opportunity to tap into my partnering game, and James Gilmer is a very reliable person to dance with, which is very important especially in this piece.”

A new production of Hans van Manen’s 1997 “Solo,” a trio for three men with music by Bach, is also a local premiere on Program A. Its current cast is a distinguishing factor, says Rushing.  

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Chalvar Monteiro dances in Hans van Manen’s “Solo.” (Photo by Daniel Azoulay/Courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

“As a dancer, whenever you come into a work that’s been performed before, there’s always the pressure and challenge of staying true with what was done before but also bringing yourself to it. This piece is really specific about the dancer—you see their personalities, strengths, humor—so as we came into it, we had to also make room for who they are, and simply because this is a new generation doing it, that alone makes the piece more contemporary.”

“Solo” exemplifies Ailey’s mission, says Rushing: “He always talked about not having cookie-cutter dancers, and he wanted the dancers to bring themselves to the work. Though he was talking about his own work, we carry that over to all the other ballets that become part of the repertory, and also, for the most part, the choreographers fall in line with that vision.”

Program A, at 7:30 p.m. April 2 and 8 p.m. April 6, also includes Ailey’s signature “Revelations,” the 1960 masterpiece recalling the late choreographer’s experiences at church in the segregated Texas of his youth; and frequent AAADT collaborator Ronald K. Brown’s 2009 “Dancing Spirit,” which is set to music by Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Radiohead and War. 

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Isabel Wallace-Green, Christopher Wilson, and Caroline Dartey appear in Amy Hall Garner’s “Century.” (Photo by Paul Kolnik/Courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

Program B at 7:30 p.m. April 3 offers the Bay Area premiere of former Broadway dancer Amy Hall Garner’s 2023 “Century,” which celebrates the life of her 100-year-old grandfather Henry Spooner and features tunes by Ellington, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Irving Berlin, Rebirth Brass Band, Cyrus Chestnut and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. 

“The music is brilliant, electric and energizing, and Amy captures the old and the new by pulling from those old jazz dances from that era, but presenting it in a very contemporary way,” Rushing says. “I feel that Amy’s craftsmanship is one of the beautiful ways that celebrates her grandfather because you definitely feel the tradition, but you also feel the newness of it.”

Even though Christopher Wilson, who performs in “Century,” hasn’t met Garner’s grandfather, he feels like he knows him. It’s a sentiment he believes others will share.

“Everyone in the audience gets to learn a bit about him each time it’s performed, and by the end, they, too, are joining in on the celebration,” Wilson says. “I can’t even begin to fathom what he’s experienced in 100 years of life, and I’m honored that Amy has entrusted us to share her grandfather’s joy, resilience and love of jazz with audiences all over the world.”  

Program B also includes revivals of Kyle Abraham’s 2022’s “Are You in Your Feelings? (with music by The Flamingos, James Sullivan, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Drake, Shirley Brown, Maxwell, Summer Walker, Kendrick Lamar and Jhené Aiko) and the 2023 production of San Francisco choreographer Alonzo King’s “Following the Subtle Current Upstream” created in 2000, with music by Zakir Hussain, Miguel Frasconi and Miriam Makeba.   

“The ballet has evolved since its original version, so it has morphed into different versions according to the specific company,” Rushing explains. “But Alonzo was very passionate about getting closer to the original version since it was set on the Alvin Ailey dancers, so the new production allows a bit of room for the evolution and makes sure the current dancers also own it and make it theirs.” 

Dartey, who has experience with the dance, says, “Every time I perform the piece, I feel like I’m exploring different aspects of my artistry and technique. I never want it to be the same, and that’s what keeps it exciting for me.” 

Program C, at 7 p.m. April 4, is a gala performance reprising works by King, Roxas-Dobrish and Ailey; and Program D, at 8 p.m. April 5 and 2 p.m. April 6, includes “Revelations” and “Ailey Classics” (with “Reflections in D,” and excerpts from “Memoria,” “Night Creature,” “Pas de Duke,” “Masekela Langage,” “Opus McShann,” “Love Songs” and “For ‘Bird’ — With Love”).  

Program E, at 3 p.m. April 7, reprises “Revelations” and ballets by King and Garner. 

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater appears in five programs April 2-7 at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft Way at Dana Street, University of California, Berkeley campus. Tickets are $40-$178 with discounts for UC Berkeley students at (510) 642-9988 or  

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