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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

'Love Stories', 'Vespers', 'Solo', 'Revelations'

by Christine

September 5, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

London dance audiences love Alvin Ailey, and it has been a coup for Sadler’s Wells to present the company twice in recent memory. This programme took us on a journey with Ailey from the company’s groundbreaking work in the 1960s through to the company’s 21st century works.

The evening opened with “Love Stories” (2004), co-choreographed by Rennie Harris, Judith Jamison and Robert Battle to the musical genius of Stevie Wonder. “Love Stories” seemed unfinished to me; I felt it was stuck together with unconvincing transitions. The piece was a series of portraits of the dancers in rehearsal, during warm ups, and in the club -- all locations referenced at respective points by the soundtrack, “Black people dancing at home”. Rennie Harris’ mixed contemporary/modern/street/club vernacular was stamped all over this work and these moments were the most engaging. Here the dancers pushed themselves physically and the movement allowed them to express their own individuality. Judging from the audience’s reaction, there seemed to be a stony cold “what am I watching?” vibe in the rows around me, but they warmed up towards the end. Dwana Adiaha Smallwood and Hope Boykin were the most exuberant performers in this number and led the rest of the chorus in breaking down the audience’s resistance. This work is a good indicator of where the company is going.

“Vespers” (1986) choreographed by the late Ulysses Dove, was a perfect study of modern dance as well as a precursor to Paul Taylor’s “Speaking in Tongues” (1991). If Ailey’s aim was for the company to be a “hothouse” of modern dance experimentation, this work is its living legacy. There were six dancers in severe black costumes, each with her own chair. The dance gave one the feeling of a religious experience, almost erotic, where the dancers have visions outside of themselves. Dove’s mathematically precise choreography used simple patterns and repetition, and the dancers did this choreographic jewel justice without a single foot, hand or gesture off the mark. Again, Smallwood and Boykin stood and played their characters with integrity. As an audience member, I believe in them and I am transported with them to this other place.

Hans van Manen’s “Solo” (1997), which is actually a work for three male dancers, was performed by danseur of the night Clifton Brown, Glenn Allen Sims, and Matthew Rushing. It’s absolutely brilliant watching a modern company push its capabilities and venture into the classical realm. This simple trio to the strains of Bach allowed the audience to see the versatility of the three men. It was lighthearted and humorous, a stark contrast to “Vespers”. The audience enjoyed it and everyone was smiling by the end.

In the end, finally, came the dance that everyone was looking forward to, “Revelations” (1960). The company did not disappoint -- there were standing ovations before it even ended and an encore. With New Orleans drowning half a world away, London was celebrating a notable son of the US South.

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