sat 13/07/2024

Alvin Ailey, Programme C review - black, beautiful, brilliant | reviews, news & interviews

Alvin Ailey, Programme C review - black, beautiful, brilliant

Alvin Ailey, Programme C review - black, beautiful, brilliant

America's No.1 rounds off its triumphant visit with a diddly-doo-wop

Walk in the light: Linda Celeste Sims, Alicia Graf and Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's 'Revelations'photo: Andrew Eccles

The Ailey company is that rare thing – a dance legend that’s even better than you remember.

While no one forgets their first encounter with America’s No.1 touring troupe and its unique mix of ballet, modern, jazz, street, and all-round athletic fabulousness, repeat viewings only increase one’s respect. The opening night of Programme C at Sadler’s Wells notched up my own 13th exposure to Revelations, the company’s barn-storming calling card inspired by Ailey’s early experience of segregated rural Texas. And it’s still fresh. Try as I might to spot a pasted-on smile in “Rocka My Soul”, there wasn’t one.

The reason the company caps every programme with this 60-year-old gospel hit is clear: it tethers the whole operation to the original vision of Alvin Ailey. Revelations was created in 1959, just as the Civil Rights movement was kicking off. With its clear, vibrant outlines of agony and ecstasy, it's a piece of living history.AAADT in Jamar Roberts' 'Members Don't Get Weary'But that succinctness is hard to match. The newest piece on the bill, Ounce of Faith by Darrell Grand Moultrie, pays tribute to the idea of the profound influence a teacher can have on a child, and it meanders. The most engaging stretches are the hugely energised ensembles as dancers work the floor in blurs of hot pink, yellow and turquoise, engaging muscle groups most mortals don’t possess. Solos are distributed widely, so you get to know individuals. Yet nothing surpasses tall, rangy Jessica Amber Pinkett in an eye-popping orange lurex leotard who delivers a five-minute précis of the theme.

Company member Jamar Roberts choreographed the other big new piece, Members Don’t Get Weary (pictured above). Another social piece about a social phenomenon – depression and how we deal with it – it’s set to the jazz saxophone of John Coltrane. The high point is a duet, at first exploratory, later building to a wild solo rampage for Ghrai DeVore-Stokes, an exact match for Coltrane’s off-the-scale improv.

But the evening’s clincher is a squib of a duet lasting just five minutes. One minute longer and Daniel Harder and Renaldo Maurice might have had to be carried off on stretchers. Ella, by artistic director Robert Battle, is a response to Ella Fitzgerald’s virtuoso scat “Airmail Special”, and matches every syllable of her runaway diddly-doo-wops with shrugs, shuffles, leaps and collapses of inhuman speed and precision. Hilarious and sublime.

The material, the general vibe of the evening, shouts African-American. That's what this company is about, right? So I can't have been alone in being disconcerted by the presence on stage of at least two white and two Asian faces. It feels like watering the wine, but no doubt there are sound reasons for diluting the racial mix. The company was the first in America to engage in arts-in-education and this is a major strand of its work at home. Might another reason be to guard against the whole thing turning into a black beauty contest? You look at these dancers and think, yes, they've got it all.

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