Most people think of dancers as physical beings, as superbly toned and trained bodies that can do things other bodies can’t. But I’m convinced that a dancer’s spirit, far more than his or her physical prowess, is the measure of greatness: the body merely clothes the spirit, makes it visible. The dancers of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater have that extra edge, that larger dimension that comes from trying just a little bit harder and a little bit harder still. They don’t just perform the works of Ulysses Dove, they attack them, driving home all their hard-edged sensuality and rubber-band tension. With a theatrical, Broadway-tinged work like Billy Wilson’s The Winter in Lisbon, their dancing carves the characters out of thin air, with gestures bigger and more spectacular than real life and yet just as true. Then they can turn around and perform a work like artistic director Judith Jamison’s Forgotten Time with all the quiet gentleness it demands. After a three-year absence, the Ailey dancers return to Chicago as part of the Spring Festival of Dance; they’ll splash their spirits across the stage in the works of a variety of choreographers, including The Winter in Lisbon, Dove’s Vespers, and a new dance by Jamison called Hymn. Wednesday at 7, Thursday at 8, next Friday, May 20, at 8, next Saturday, May 21, at 2 and 8, and next Sunday, May 22, at 3 (see listing for programs) at the Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe; $15-$40, $200 for the opening-night gala. Call 902-1500 for tickets and information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jack Mitchell.