Review: Alvin Ailey’s 65th season will have you ‘in your feelings’

Celebrating its 65th year, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is appealing to new generations with Kyle Abraham’s “Are You in Your Feelings?” and more.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, AAADT, Ailey Ailey, Alvin Ailey at City Center, Miles Marshall Lewis,
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Kyle Abraham's "Are You in Your Feelings?" (Photo by Paul Kolnik)

In December 2022, I brought my teenage son to his first Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance, which showcased choreographer Kyle Abraham’s “Are You in Your Feelings?” during the company’s annual holiday season run at Manhattan’s City Center. The show closed with its signature piece, the iconic “Revelations.” Though my son received the night as a typical evening with the Ailey company, he’d actually seen something really extraordinary, whether he realized it or not. Devoted to love, set to a romantic soundtrack of timely R&B, hip-hop and soul, “Are You in Your Feelings?” slaps so hard that I returned this year — the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 65th anniversary season — just to revisit.

Immediately after my first time around, I downloaded several songs from the work onto a personal playlist: Erykah Badu’s moody “I’ll Call U Back,” Jhené Aiko’s heartbreakingly wistful “While We’re Young.” The dancers’ interpretations of Abraham’s movements—from voguing duckwalks to body waves and other fluid, sensual motion—carry forward a narrative of love gained, lost and reconciled, particularly diminutive marvel Ashley Kaylynn Green. But the mainly modern music does a lot of heavy lifting of its own, telling a story through classics like the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You” all the way up through Kendrick Lamar’s “LOVE.”

Given the Ailey company’s penchant for leaning on more classic catalogs (the Duke Ellington composition in 1976’s “Pas de Duke,” for example), I asked Abraham his intentions behind bringing the likes of Drake and Summer Walker into an Ailey production.

“I was interested in creating a playlist that was intergenerational, but very much from a Black perspective,” Abraham said via email. “As someone who loves making playlists, I find it fun to ‘dig into the crates’ a bit and add songs that maybe aren’t as expected. But more importantly, I want the songs to be relative. The soundtrack here is one of love and heartbreak. And I wanted to express that in a way that everyone could connect to. What are the songs you play in your car or in your room when you’re in love with someone, and ‘in your feelings’? That’s something everyone of every age does in some regard, so I wanted to reflect that and honor that with this sound score.”

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Abraham (a 2013 MacArthur Fellow) founded his own Brooklyn-based dance company, A.I.M, in 2006. Though “Are You in Your Feelings?” debuted at Alvin Ailey last year with raves from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, Abraham created an earlier work — A.I.M’s “An Untitled Love,” from 2021 — that sort of speaks in dialogue with the Ailey production: another piece devoted to Black love, but through the exclusive use of D’Angelo songs. But since last year, his newer piece has been connecting with a larger audience at Alvin Ailey while arguably appealing to a younger demographic than usual for the company. It also likely marks an unprecedented instance where profanity needs to be edited out of the music for an Ailey performance.

“I love playing with text in live theater,” Abraham mentions, explaining his choice to have a dancer or two blurt out dialogue during the dance rather than have his movements carry the entire narrative. “In the context of this work — and several others — I think about the ways in which we’re often interrupted by running into friends on the street or listening in on ignorant conversations on the subway while listening to music on headphones or reading a book. Those textual interruptions are doses of reality and levity that make the work or the worlds I’m referencing all the more human.”

AAADTs Ashley Green and Chalvar Monteiro perform Kyle Abraham’s “Are You in Your Feelings?” on Feb. 8, 2023, at the 2023 Alvin Ailey DC Gala at Kennedy Center. (Photo by Tony Powell)

This year I shared “Are You in Your Feelings?”, programmed in the middle of “Revelations” and choreographer Amy Hall Garner’s “CENTURY” (a solid piece set to Ailey’s more usual suspects of Ellington, Count Basie and Ray Charles), with my wife. For the first time, she got to see the near-fluorescent costuming of sheer tops and billowy pants; the loving duets between Ashley Kaylynn Green and dancer Chalvar Monteiro; the sad breakup vignette of Samantha Figgins and James Gilmer … all of it. Most movingly of all, I got to hold her hand through the finale, Jhené Aiko singing throughout the hall about following her lover wherever he goes. Go see “Are You in Your Feelings?” with someone you love. The answer to Kyle Abraham’s titular question will feel glaringly obvious.

Corrected: Friday, 12/15/23 at 4:05 p.m., E.T.: An earlier version of this post misidentified dancer Samantha Figgins as Ghrai DeVore-Stokes.

Miles Marshall Lewis (@MMLunlimited) is an author and Harlem-based cultural critic whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Rolling Stone and many other outlets. Lewis is currently finishing a cultural biography of comedian Dave Chappelle, his follow-up to Promise That You Will Sing About Me: The Power and Poetry of Kendrick Lamar.

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