Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Honors MLK Jr. Starting Tonight at the Music Center

Choreographer Hope Boykin’s homage to the civil rights leader makes its West Coast premiere

Whenever Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater comes to town, it feels like a celebration. The New York-based group never fails to draw enthusiastic crowds, who come, of course, for Ailey’s 1960 signature piece, Revelations, as well as contemporary work such as artistic director Robert Battle’s Awakening, Ella, and In/Side.

Alvin Ailey’s return comes at a moment of political duress for the country as the show itself shines a light on the nation’s civil rights battles. A six-program run Wednesday through Sunday at the Music Center features the West Coast premieres of three works that debuted last year in New York: r-Evolution, Dream., Untitled America, and Deepr-Evolution, Dream. is a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by dancer-choreographer Hope Boykin. The ensemble piece includes 15 company members, with music by Ali Jackson (from Jazz at Lincoln Center) and narration by Leslie Odom Jr. (of Hamilton fame).

This is the third piece Boykin has choreographed for the company, which she joined as a dancer in 2000. “I have found forgiveness and trust, my own evolution, so to speak,” she says. We spoke with her about her creative process.

Hope Boykin

Photo by Andrew Eccles

What is it about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that inspired r-Evolution, Dream.?

Dr. King, as we all know, was a scholar and an incredible orator. But I found when studying and revisiting his sermons and speeches, I began to hear his words differently. His swells, inflections, and cadence allowed the words to ring like music—in a way I had never taken in before. I was forced to listen with a different ear, and called to move to his rhythms.

What’s that movement like?

I’ve decided to create a microcosm of the world from my eyes, the eyes of some of my relatives, and many who have influenced me, especially Dr. King. I have distinguished each group, set them apart from one another, but really am trying to show we are all the same. I never intended the work to be heavy, and I do not believe it is, but I have commented on what I have seen and learned throughout my life.

A wonderful friend and actor, Leslie Odom Jr., has narrated historical and original texts within the work to bring more context to what inspired me so much about Dr. King’s message and his legacy.

r-Evolution, Dream. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Choreography by Hope Boykin. Photo by Paul Kolnik

“That’s very Hope” is what people tend to say when describing your choreographic style. How would you define it?

I often need to remind myself that movement is abstract. I like to move fast, often circular and quirky, doing my best to show how the music looks with the “steps” I have chosen. Without context, like the letters of the alphabet, each step has its own sound and value but often changes when it is mixed and in conjunction with others. When each dancer accepts and appreciates the information, stands onstage with costume and lights and marries the movement to the music, a story begins to unfold.

How did it feel to choreograph this piece for your colleagues, the dancers who have performed with you in the company?

Yes, I have been dancing beside some of the most amazing artists for 17 years; I know them, their strengths, their highs, and what challenges them. I often call them the superheroes of dance, and I don’t think that is enough praise. I felt excited, nervous, intimidated, and confident when working with my coworkers, but I would choose it all over again if I could.

Matthew Rushing in r-Evolution, Dream. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Photo by Paul Kolnik