Programme A of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Sadler’s Wells residency pairs off two different works with common roots: its signature piece, Revelations, and Lazarus, the first two Act work in the company’s 60 years.
Lazarus, from the hip hop choreographer Rennie Harris, is an intense exploration of the African American experience, its suffering, toils, and indomitable spirit; and it’s an homage to Alvin Ailey himself.
It’s a dark, multi-layered work, and it’s deeply introspective, which is simultaneously a strength and a weakness. The soundtrack blends music, and a variety of noises, from dogs barking through traffic and industrial grinding, occasionally overlaid with male voices, one of which is Alvin Ailey’s.
The voices are often indistinct, which is aggravating as you sense that there is much meaning to be derived from those fragments; the ones you get, such as Ailey’s reference to ‘blood memories,’ hit hard.
Act 1 occurs on a dark, often smokey stage, where the historic tribulations of African Americans are represented in slow, highly impressionistic tableaux, the meaning of which is not always clear: a dead man is mournfully picked up from the ground; kneeling women appear to sow a field; an earth-bound man performs a breakdance routine in painful slow motion.
Act 2 is lighter, the dun coloured costumes of Act 1 replaced by stronger colours; the choreography, based on Philadelphia GQ, a dance genre that developed in the city’s black clubs in the 1960s, is set to a stronger beat overlaid with Nina Simone’s 'Feeling Good.'
Revelations has been part of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s every performance since its 1960 premiere, but remains as fresh as a newly minted work. Set by Alvin Ailey to a sequence of gospel songs, it’s a miracle of clarity and pace infused with the fervent spirituality that informs many African American communities, and not a little humour and cheek.
The language of Revelations is pure Martha Graham, with its well-defined lines, extended developés, tilted arabesques and strong core contractions. It allows for boisterous dancing in, for example, 'Sinner Man' for a male trio, or yearning lyricism in 'Fix Me, Jesus,' a duet for a man and a woman.
The dancers of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (predominantly, but not exclusively black) are uniformly excellent, highly technical, immensely energetic and totally committed.
PROGRAMME A continues: 6, 8, 14 September at 19:30. Matinees 7, 12 at 14:30
PROGRAMME B ★★★★★
Programme B, where three short works precede Revelations, provides ample proof of the talent and versatility of these dancers.
EN, choreographer Jessica Lang’s first piece for AAADT, is inspired by Japanese culture and set for the most part to the pulsating thud of big Japanese drums. A large disc sits at the back of the stage, and the whole ballet reflects on fate and the circularity of life.
Thirteen white-clad dancers swirl in perpetual motion, occasionally coalescing into lines, which suggest unbroken continuity and thus become a subtle leitmotif. EN makes the most of the dancers’ physicality; and as the drums are joined by insistent strings, together they bring the work to a glorious apotheosis.
The choreographer Ronald K. Brown describes The Call as ‘a love letter to Mr Ailey.’ It’s an elegant and very clever work for three women in flowing dresses of pastel satin skirts with black lace bodices, and two men in beige two-piece suits.
In the soundtrack Bach segues into a very jazzy Mary Lou Williams number, which segues into a purely African beat by Asas Yaa Entertainment Group. The choreography moves from very poised and courtly to swinging jazz and finally African dance; but in each segment there are choreographic hints of the style to come. It’s entirely satisfying.
Juba is AAADT artistic director Robert Battle’s exploration of ritual, with more than a passing nod to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Three men and one woman dressed in bright turquoise tops and dark blue velvet pants respond to the deep bass strings and dissonant chords of John Mackey’s score with a growing frenzy that now brings them together, now sets one member of the group apart.
Its relentless energy is at once daunting and contagious. Ritual possession has never been so enticing.
And then there comes Revelations – and we’re sent home with a spring in our step, a smile in our faces, hearts soaring and souls singing.
Who could ask for more?
PROGRAMME B continues: 7, 11, 13 September at 19:30. Sun 8 at 14:30 Dur.: 2 hours 5 mins inc two intervals.
PROGRAMME C – 10, 12 September at 19:30. Matinee 14 at 14:30 Dur.: 2 hours 5 mins inc two intervals.
|What||Review: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Sadler's Wells|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
04 Sep 19 – 14 Sep 19, 19:30 mats 14:30 Dur.: 2 hours 5 mins inc two intervals
|Website||Click here to book|