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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in London
Where is the company headed?

by Emma Pegler

June 2002-- Sadler's Wells, London

The company is without doubt worth seeing. It clearly has a cult status that it deserves – the audience was beside itself with pleasure. Of course, cult status guarantees a proportion of dance virgins and novices in the audience. That I found refreshing since people visibly and unashamedly enjoying themselves is contagious. The dress circle of Sadler’s Wells was brimming with people who flouted the rules of theatre-going by jumping up in their seats to whistle and dance and generally to groove to the rhythmic music with which they were so familiar (I heard one woman during the interval animatedly inform her circle of friends that one of the songs is a frequent opener at her local nightclub). English audiences are normally well-known for their reserve, so the change was refreshing.

Yet there was a sense that we were witnessing a touring museum. Alvin Ailey’s signature piece, “Revelations,” is worthy of its cult status -- it is brilliant -- but how can a company that has proved it can attain the dizzy heights of “Revelations” sustain itself on works that just do not pass muster. Ronald K. Brown’s “Grace” is catchy but the joint is all too visible where club dance is fused with classical technique. A ‘groove,’ with the odd balletic high-kick thrown in for good measure, did not convince me. Alonzo King’s “Following the subtle current upstream” is completely unmemorable apart from the three great guys leaping around to show us there are no boundaries to their technique. There was a wonderful moment on Tuesday evening when, as the handsome male dancers dropped one after another into the splits, a woman in the audience let out a loud gasp of admiration.

But where is the company headed? I can see where it has been -- all round the world, touring its heart out and spreading the Ailey word under the aegis of the company’s promoter, Paul Szilard, and the strong direction of Judith Jamison. Thank God the dancers are fit, robust and brimming with energy. They light up the stage with their enthusiasm. And that enthusiasm is fully backed up by ability. Yet I can’t help thinking that they deserve better material to work with.

 

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