Wednesday 6 September 2023

Dance: Wade in the water, children

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
at 65
artistic director Robert Battle
Sadler's Wells, London • 5-16.Sep.23

Celebrating the establishment of the Alvin Ailey company in 1958, this mixed bill season features four programmes that feature both old and new numbers. I attended the first night, titled Contemporary Voices, featuring three recent pieces followed by a thunderous work choreographed by Ailey himself.

First up is Are You in Your Feelings? (2022, choreography by Kyle Abraham), in which dancers appear in couples wearing colourful, loose flowing costumes, grooving to a range of pulsing numbers from Drake's riff on The Beatles' Michelle to The Flamingos' I Only Have Eyes for You to Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Kendrick Lamar and more Drake. Little scenarios emerge revealing some gender-based attitudes, lit provocatively from above and the side. The moods are vivid, and the dancers take a casual approach that's engaging, fluid and precise but never quite sharp.

The mood lightens considerably with For Four (2021, choreography by Robert Battle), a bouncy piece accompanied by soft jazz from Wynton Marsalis. The dancing is reactive to the music rather than interactive, which makes it feels a bit simplistic. But it's also charming, bright and energetic, packed with witty touches. A moment featuring an American flag and a shirtless Black dancer is perhaps deliberately jarring. But the jaunty vibe swiftly returns.

Shifting to opera, Unfold (2007, choreography by Battle) plays to an aria from Louise sung by Leontyne Price. This is an edgier work, centring around a diva who strikes dramatically bold poses while a man circles around her. Their interaction is tough and intriguing, creating gorgeous lines and shapes using a tremendous amount of strength. Most intriguingly, this is not about creating the most beautiful poses, so the lighting, music, costumes and committed performances have a strong impact.

Finally, the main event is Revelations (1960, choreography by Ailey), which uses traditional spirituals as musical accompaniment while the simply glorious dancing creates huge emotional impact. This is a powerfully moving multi-part performance, and perhaps it's clear that the dancers themselves know this, as they pour their skill and passion into each expressive move. The result is visceral and shattering in way that's both challenging and uplifting. Scenes shift through a series of movements, including a summery sequence with a white parasol and a group number featuring church ladies with quivering fans. Shimmering and evocative, and bursting with soulfulness, the scenes escalate as the group takes on a punchy Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham. And the curtain call is gorgeous as well.

Note that the images are from the full programme, not necessarily the pieces reviewed. For details, SADLER'S WELLS >

photos by Dario Calmese & Paul Kolnik • 5.Sep.23

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