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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in London
Not so great oldies

by Melanie Nix

June 2002-- Sadler's Wells, London

Having waited a year for the rescheduled appearance of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, expectations were sky high. After interviewing Judith Jamison for last year I was thrilled at the opportunity of seeing some of the works she spoke so highly of but I am sorry to confess that I was sorely disappointed. Not by the standard of the dancing -- Lord, no -- these dancers are incredible. Their technique is faultless, their musicality impeccable, their line and flexibility awe-inspiring. But they are wasted in this programme, stuck as it is in a time warp. I am not saying that I did not want to see one or two signature pieces. It was fantastic to see both "Divining," one of Judith Jamison’s most famous works, and of course Ailey’s Revelations. But when you think that within both programmes the most modern work was created in 2000 you wonder what on earth they’ve been doing for the past few years except churning out the old greats -- which frankly don’t look so great anymore.

The first piece on the programme, "Divining" (choreographed in 1984), was interesting even if it showed its age. The movement was soft, jazzy and contemporary with dynamic moves. The dancers were phenomenally powerful which made the piece but the choreography wouldn’t be able to stand up to much nowadays. Groups replaced groups, running on to perform sections in unison with lots of lay outs, penchees and split leaps -- all executed beautifully -- no, better than beautifully -- but a little tiring all the same. However, it was performed with conviction and it was a welcome addition to the programme from a historical point of view.

The next piece, Ailey’s "Pas de Duke" (1976), began amusingly as Matthew Rushing and Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell (that’s quite a name!) strolled onstage sporting white and black satin suits. The piece was groovy in an old time musical sort of way, their high kicks unbelievable -- both from Rushing and Fishher-Harrell -- and attitude and en de dans pirouettes were executed with enviable ease and perfection. The problem was the AMOUNT of pirouettes. I began to think that if I saw another prepare, fourth, multiple pirouette I would scream. Yes, they were executed impeccably but it began to look like I was watching an awards ceremony rather than a piece of choreography. Arabesques were also in abundance and the piece lacked imaginative movement. A sign of the times possibly but this is where I began to wish that these dancers could be showcased in something more modern, their technique and artistry really used to knock us out of our seats, because believe me this company has the potential.

Ulysses Dove’s "Bad Blood" (1984) had to be the worst piece of the evening. This wasn’t dated in the quaint Gene Kelly way that Pas de Duke was. Think more John Travolta in "Staying Alive." All it lacked were puffs of smoke, head bands and leg warmers and flashing red lights but the choreography was all there. Sliding between each other’s legs, massive run-ups across the stage giving away the fact that the female was about to perform some incredible jump: two dancers dashing on from the wings, male stops and waits as girl jumps into arms. It was that kind of predictable, funked up modern ISTD.

"Revelations" on the other hand was fantastic. Ailey’s signature piece choreographed in 1960, it looked more modern, or at least carried its age better than any of the others! Certainly the movement was more imaginative and the compositions more interesting. It was bitty, as many of the pieces were, with upteen blackouts but each section was astounding, finishing up with three men performing the most incredible piroutttes (I know, turns again, but this time they were speedy, punchy and exciting). There was a wonderful section with the full company, women head to toe in yellow frills and waving fans.

It would be interesting to see Alonzo King’s "Following the Current Upstream" just to see how he has used these incredible dancers in hopefully something more modern. Of course, this is the programme they planned to bring in 2001 which writes off the possibility of them bringing a piece choreographed in 2002 but Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater would be foolish to continue churning out programmes made up solely of pieces which propelled them to stardom. They need to prove that they can remain there. There is too much competition about to remain so fixedly in the past.


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