Very few cities can equal the artistic output of Atlanta during Black History Month, and this past celebratory season was no different. Among the many local celebrations and gatherings, there were performances of dance, theater and song.
The Fox Theatre, one of Atlanta’s oldest and most popular performance venues, featured separate performances from The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.
With both shows moving on to other cities The Atlanta Voice editors, Stan Washington and Donnell Suggs, took time to attend performances of both shows and have provided first-person reviews.
Alvin Ailey returns and does not disappoint
By Stan Washington
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater made its annual trip to its “second home” Atlanta with another stellar performance at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, Feb. 16-19.
More than 4,000 people attended the SatFeb. 18 matinee performance. My first Alvin Ailey performance was at the Atlanta Civic Center in the mid-1970s. The dancers have changed numerous times over the decades as have the performances – save for Revelation- but the high quality of the performances have not dropped one iota, which is one reason why Alvin Ailey remains one of the premier dance companies in the world.
Saturday’s 2 p.m. performance ended with the obligatory Revelation, which the company will have to perform 1000 years from now. Nothing new to report here. It was performed flawlessly – in my opinion and at least to the liking of the faithful Ailey fans, from the look and sound of the crowd throughout the performance.
The program opened up with Night Creature created by Ailey in 1974. The three-part movement featured the music of the late musical legend Duke Ellington. Although it was created over four decades ago, to many of this multicultural audience it may have been new material. The costumes for the first movement and the lighting did little to enhance the performance by the dancers which were on point. The costumes seem more appropriate for the next two movements based on Ellington’s music.
The lighting and costume picked up some more for the next two performances For Four
(2021) and Unfold (2007) both choreographed by the current artistic director Robert Battle. Battle is no second-rate choreographer. His work can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ailey’s. For Four featured the music of Wynton Marsalis.
Unfold features the stunning voice of opera singer Leontyne Price and showcases the beautiful movements of dancers Jacquelin Harris and Kanji Segawa. This is also a piece worthy to be performed year after year long after Battle has retired.
It was another strong performance and program by the company. I just wish for the first movement of “Night Creatures” they would be a little more creative with the lighting and costumes.
The same question comes to mind every time I watch an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance: How can you not say that these dancers aren’t athletes?
What’s love got to do with it? Everything answers “Tina”
By Donnell Suggs
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical opened at the Fox Theatre Tues., Feb. 21 and from the opening minutes of the show there was an energy venerating from the sold out crowd of 4,600-plus that I could feel from my seat. From the music to the performances from that night’s Turner, actress Zurin Villanueva (Noami Rodgers also plays Turner on other nights), Tina is worthy of all of the hype that surrounded the show. In fact, it was better than advertised.
The opening act begins with Turner as a child singing at church in Nutbush, Tennessee. Played brilliantly by Ayvah Johnson, young Anna Mae Bullock stole the show every time she was on stage. The heartbreaks that have famously been shared about Turner’s childhood and life as a young singer married to an abusive Ike Turner show up throughout the performance. It’s too bad the show doesn’t veer in another direction, but the narrative of Turner beating the odds and rebuilding her career as one of the biggest solo artists in the world is the story that continues to attract paying customers. Garrett Turner’s work as Ike Turner was excellent, particularly when he was in bandleader mode. There’s no doubt he watches hours of video of Turner at work.
The opening act of Tina is nearly twice as long as the second act and includes performances of classics like “Nutbush City Limits”, “Shake a Tailfeather,” and a “Fool in Love.” The dance moves and choreography of the Villenueva as Tina and the beautiful Ikettes played by Aliyah Caldwell, Reyna Guerra, Takia Hopson and Parris Lewis, were astonishing. Pull up a Youtube video of the real Tina Turner and the Ikettes performing, “Fool in Love” and there is very little difference. With the exception of the close of the show, the performances by Tina with the Ikettes were the best thing about Tina.
The first act ends with “I Don’t Wanna Fight No More,” which is misplaced in Turner’s actual timeline but well placed in the flow of the show.
The show wasn’t totally flawless though, as Act II opens with “Private Dancer,” one of Turner’s most famous songs and the title track to her 1984 album. With the total understanding that the play is written by Pulitzer winning playwright Katori Hall and has to abide the ebbs and flows of a play, the “Private Dancer” portion of the play alludes to Turner having to dance for a living, when in actuality the song came at a time when she was her most powerful and free. As a huge fan of Turner and particularly of that song, I did not understand or enjoy that performance.
The show closes with a powerful performance of “(Simply) The Best”, but when Villanueva sang “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero” her gifts as a songstress shined the brightest. The show is worth seeing just for those two performances alone.
Tina is a wonderful show of respect for one of the world’s greatest live performers. It is definitely worth seeing again…and again.