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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

'Shining Star', 'Caught', 'Reminiscin'', 'Revelations'

by Ana Abad-Carles

September 6, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

On Tuesday 6th September, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presented their second programme as part of their visit to Sadler’s Wells.

The first piece of the evening was “Shining Star”, choreographed in 2004 by American choreographer David Parsons to the music of Earth, Wind & Fire. It opened with a section choreographed for ten dancers. It was a promising start, but unfortunately, the work as a whole did not live up to expectations. The remaining sections were just a fashionable take on the music’s rhythm that added nothing to the songs themselves. Not even “September” managed to carry the dancers along its wonderful melodic lines. I could not help thinking what a sad waste it was. The dancers are simply terrific and yet, they did not shine as they could, mainly because of the flat and conventional choreography that they were given.

The programme continued with “Caught”, a solo for Clifton Brown, also choreographed by David Parsons. Though the choreography was very simple, the visual result was a joy to watch. The lighting effects that Parsons used were so inventive and yet so simple, that it brought the house down. It was effective, and it challenged our expectations. The solo consisted of jumps and traveling steps executed to intermittent lighting, which created the wonderful effect of watching a dancer suspended in space. Timing for the dancer was essential and Brown was simply perfect.  It was a great piece of theatrical inventiveness and entertainment.

Next came “Reminiscin’”, by the artistic director of the company, Judith Jamison. The work was created in 2005 and it showed, once again, how desperately this company needs a choreographer capable of showcasing the talent of its dancers. Like in “Shining Star”, the choreography fell short of its intentions -- what the audience saw was but a glimpse of the group’s mastery of rhythm and musicality combined with technical ability, but once again, we were left with no memorable images. The movement was reminiscent of cliché imagery seen in many musicals. Only a duet performed by two men seemed to incorporate something new -- it challenged the audience not only choreographically but also in its very obvious sexual meaning.

Then came “Revelations” (1960) in which the troupe finally came alive. Ailey’s masterpiece has managed to pass the test of time with flying colours. In fact, I am the first to admit that it was “Revelations” that I went to see, and by gauging the response of the audience around me, I was not the only one.

“Revelations” is one of those dance works that manage to capture the essence of music, feeling and rhythm while being technically challenging. It shows what a choreographer of genius can achieve by the simplest means of expression. It shows how sincerity of purpose and execution can affect an audience… a reminder of what dance can do. To see the company, years later, managing to bring the piece alive as a monument to their own existence is an achievement in itself and a wonder in our times.

The ballet opens with a group of dancers in beautiful compositions resembling birds. The following songs continue in the style, very much linked to the contemporary dance experiments of its time, until it gets to “Wade in the Water”. I still remember the first time I saw this number back in the early nineties, the impact it had on me and the way it affected my appreciation of dance. It is simply magnificent in its simplicity, sincerity and theatricality. The resonance of this song, especially after the recent tragic events in New Orleans, was felt in the air.

From that section onwards, “Revelations” becomes Ailey’s statement on dance. Of course there are still moments that echo the contemporary dance scene of his day, like “I Wanna Be Ready” with all those wonderful contractions and floor work. However, “Sinner Man” and the glorious end are all Ailey’s. No other choreographer could have come up with such a vision and such a purpose and I doubt that any other company could bring it alive as his dancers do.

The evening ended on a high, as it has become the norm after such a masterpiece is performed. It was wonderful to see the talent in the company, the commitment in the dancers, and the glory of a heritage kept alive by the sheer joy of making it known to new audiences and generations.  It’s a pity that the company cannot find a choreographer of its stature capable of providing them with new works up to their standards. Still, we have to be grateful for their commitment to their past heritage and for their ability to make it relevant to all of us forty five years on!

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