Sadler’s Wells hasn’t seen the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater company since 2019 and, from the audience reaction, you could tell straightaway that everyone is pretty glad they’re back. It’s a feeling that builds throughout the evening culminating in the joy that is Ailey’s own masterpiece Revelations, created astonishingly in 1960 just two years after he formed the company (still the foremost African-American dance company in the US) and still as fresh a daisy today. It is the very definition of a classic but more of that later.
This season there are four programmes over 12 nights: Modern Masters, Ailey Classics, 21st Century Creations and, first up, Contemporary Voices. This in itself is an indication of the breadth and versatility of this company. Their range is exceptional – from ballet to jazz, Martha Graham to hip hop – there’s nothing you can throw at them they can’t handle.
The first programme began with Are You in Your Feelings? choreographed by Kyle Abrahams to an eclectic sound collage of music (from I only have eyes for you to Forgive them Father) and the spoken word. This is a piece for 12 of the company and it shows them to advantage, blending sharp balletic moves with hip hop and fine comic observation. Their strength and speed here is phenomenal and this company surely has the best body ripples in town.
The second piece is For Four choreographed by the company’s Artistic Director, Robert Battle. It’s danced to Wynton Marsalis’s cool jazz score by a quartet of dancers (Khalia Campbell, Deidre Rogan, Renaldo Maurice and Solomon Dumas) who dazzle with their speed and strut their stuff fit for a catwalk.
This is followed by Unfold also choreographed by Battle and he slows the tempo right down with the rich operatic voice of Leontyne Price singing ”Dupuis Le Jour” from Charpentier’s Louise. A duet for the excellent Ashley Mayeux and Jereboam Bozeman both of whom at times seem to have been created from liquid so fluid and flexible are their movements. It’s a haunting and extraordinary piece. But the atmosphere is building and we all know in the audience what happens next.
Every night and every programme always ends with the glory that is Ailey’s Revelations. Set to traditional gospel music, it draws on Ailey’s memories of his own childhood in the Baptist tradition of the South and its emotional range goes from deepest despair to euphoric joy. It begins with Ailey’s signature moves – deep plies, seagull arms, bowed heads – in “I Been ‘Buked” through the yearning “Fix me Jesus” to river baptism in “Take me to the Water” complete with waves.
Then we’re on the home strait with ladies in their Sunday best, fanning themselves in the southern heat, wearing hats, scolding the menfolk, carrying parasols and standing on stools. Sinner Men run across the stage. The grand finale “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” should be prescribed by the NHS for depression. Flawless technique, powerfully uplifting, it’s one big shout of joy.
Praise the Lord, Alvin Ailey’s back in town.
Alvin Ailey runs at Sadler’s Wells until 16th September. For more information, including showtimes, bookings, and to watch a trailer, please visit www.sadlerswells.com.
Photos by Paul Kolnik, unless otherwise credited