fri 24/05/2024

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Sadler's Wells review - exhilarating display of a full deck of dance styles | reviews, news & interviews

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Sadler's Wells review - exhilarating display of a full deck of dance styles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Sadler's Wells review - exhilarating display of a full deck of dance styles

From stately to sexy, these fabulously physical dancers engage every emotion

Powerhouse: Ashley Kaylynn Green, centre, with Chalvar Monteiro on her left, and the Alvin Ailey company in Are You in Your Feelings?Paul Kolnik; lower picture of Revelations by James R Brantley

A big welcome awaited the Alvin Ailey dancers at the Wells, on their first international tour since lockdown. The company has scheduled four different mixed bills over 10 days, each with its signature piece, Revelations, as the finale. This is a great idea as the company returned after their final bow on press night to reprise part of the piece and coax the audience onto their feet. No problem.

What a wonderfully versatile troupe this is. Its opening night programme, a bill subtitled Contemporary Voices, began with a 2022 Kyle Abraham piece, Are You in Your Feelings?, made on the dancers, that really sets out the company’s stall. In small groups and couples they play out a street scene of people meeting, uniting, parting, with snatches of actual conversations linking music ranging from the Flamingos hit “I Only Have Eyes For You“ to contemporary R&B and hiphop, from acts such as Lauryn Hill, Drake and Kendrick Lamarr. 

The moves here are at base balletic arabesques and chainés, given an extra athletic boost. In duets and perfectly synched ensembles, the dancers slinkily writhe with curved arms and thrusting torsos. Sometimes they just do a languid walk, or flap one hand at hip height. At others they suddenly perform bravura rock-solid extensions. Their physicality is fabulous.

Visually, the piece is simple but striking, with just a curve of light on the black back wall as scenery, and neon-colours, electric pinks and reds, for the lighting. The women are in full palazzo pants of muted colours, the men in Ts and loose trousers. One woman arrives eating a big bag of crisps. There’s an air of community about the piece, though inevitably two dancers stand out: the electrifying Chalvar Monteiro, who worked with Abraham after graduating from dance school; and Ashley Kaylynn Green, a powerhouse of fluid moves. Between them, these two could provide enough energy to run a major US city.

The middle section of this bill is devoted to two pieces by the company’s artistic director, Robert Battle. For Four, from 2021, treats us to a cheeky set of permutations of four dancers, to a cool Wynton Marsalis score. Renaldo Maurice, in sparkly braces, opens the piece with a winning solo, then the other three dancers, two of them women, arrive in suits and the moves become larkier, strutting and spinning, going through tap moves and shoulder jiggles, some hiphop-inflected, all increasingly speedy. It’s a great mix of popular and classical.

Battle’s Unfold (2007) then narrows the cast down to just two, to an aria from Charpentier’s Louise sung by Leontyne Price. There is more impressive dancing here from a woman (Ashley Mayeux on opening night) who at first is bent over sideways at the front of the stage. She slowly “unfolds”, throwing her arms backwards before collapsing in a heap, while a male dancer (Jereboam Bozeman) keeps trying to help her move around. They manage some “skating” steps together, but soon she is bent over as before. 

In another of the four programmes, I caught Dancing Spirit, a 2009 piece by Ronald K Brown given a new production this year. This is the Ailey formula in a nutshell: a slow build as measured duetting to Duke Ellington and Wynton Marsalis numbers segues into hotter tempos and finally a foot-stomping, hand-clapping thrash, backed by Radiohead and War tracks. The mood is both Latin and sexy, yet increasingly soulful as the dancers’ engagement with their art intensifies. 

Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in Revelations Then on to the whole company in Revelations, Alvin Ailey’s seminal piece from 1960, set to traditional spirituals. In the first section, Pilgrim of Sorrow, the women, in plain pale brown shifts, stand in a triangular grouping with their heads and arms reaching out, first to the heavens, then to the sides, then swinging in unison. There’s an aching, yearning feel to the sequece, a palpable sense of burdened souls struggling to be free. To “Fix Me Jesus”, a solemn, stately couple duet (Caroline T Dartey and Jereboam Bozeman were outstanding in the second programme I saw), he carrying her along on his raised arms, and the piece ending with her standing in an arabesque on his thigh.

In the Take Me to the Water section, a river duly arrives as two long strips of cloth, one white, one blue, that span the stage and, shaken by unseen hands in the wings, create a sense of a moving stream. The tempo speeds up, the sounds grow salsa-like, the moves Latin-sexy, before we move into the last section, Move, Members, Move, and some dynamic male choreography to “Sinner Man”. Then a big ensemble arrives, the women in late 19th century flowing white dresses and hats (pictured right), carrying stools, the men in formal waistcoats.

This section shows how impossible it is to pin down the mood of this extraordinary piece, which combines sincere religiosity with touches of humour – the ladies in hats have a fan-off, furiously flapping at each other in a wordless spat. This section is also the climactic show-off part for the men, who perform dizzying spins, grands jêtés and side bends. Conversely, at glacial speed, the women sit down on their stools with their backs to us and perform an array of formal moves from there. The final tableau has the women in the foreground and the men forming a line at the back of the stage, where they simply sway gently, hands on hips, with beaming smiles. A joyful way to send people home happy,

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is at Sadler’s Wells until September 16

The company returned after their final bow to coax the audience onto their feet. No problem


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters