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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

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

by David Mead

September 13, 2005 -- Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, England

The Ailey company has achieved what few other dance companies have managed. They have a distinct image, a brand if you like, and present a form of American modern dance that almost no one else comes close to. There is a natural focus on Ailey’s own works, but Artistic Director Judith Jamison has worked hard to show that the company is not a museum piece. This evening includes one new and one nearly new work.

“Reminiscin’” is a new work by Jamison herself. Set to a medley of popular songs, it features a curved late-night bar at which the dancers sit and talk, occasionally breaking away to dance with each other. It’s all about relationships, easy on the eye and pleasant enough. “Love me or Leave Me,” heard once sung by Sarah Vaughan and once by Nina Simone, pretty much summed up what was going on. However, apart from the upbeat ending, it only really hit the right note during a beautifully touching duet danced to Diana Krall’s rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” in which the dancers showed their love, support and enjoyment of being with each other. The rest of it rather lacked any sort of fizz, although the men looked especially strong except for one brief all male duet that was surprisingly shaky.

“Reminiscin’” was, however, a huge improvement on David Parsons’ 2004 work, "Shining Star," which opened the evening. Set in what seemed like a 1970s disco to six songs from Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Greatest Hits Collection,” it was a John Travolta meets The Supremes sort of piece. Again, it only hit the mark once. The central duet, by Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims, was full of incredibly smooth effortless lifts. When it was good, it was very good.  But too much of the rest, -- danced to lights across the back of the stage -- was reminiscent of some awful backing group or early pop video.

“Caught,” a Parsons’ work from 1982, really showed just how “Shining Star” failed to hit the mark. Short and simple, this solo was a perfect example of how ‘less can be more’. Pocket dynamo Clifton Brown moved around the stage with such ease -- first dancing in four spotlights, then caught in flashes of strobe lighting, at first on the ground, but later in mid-air. It almost seemed as if he never touched the ground. It’s all incredibly athletic and visually stunning although of course, “Caught” is a more a technical trick than clever choreography, but it is a good technical trick for all that. The work is now also danced by women and it would be interesting to see the different qualities they would bring to it.

“Revelations,” as ever, had the audience rocking in their seats. It closes every performance of the tour and you can see why. This 1960 company signature work shows all the gospel and blues influences Ailey brought from the Deep South. It’s one of those rare works that doesn’t seem to age and continues to pack a punch. The audience lapped it up and quite rightly. “Revelations” was streets ahead of the other two longer pieces and still shows the company at its best.

With the Ailey company you know pretty much what you are going to get - a fairly easy going evening of dance that everyone can understand.  It may not be especially challenging, but will send most people home happy. All of which is important. They have some wonderful dancers with great strength, stamina, speed and fluidity proven by how easy they make it all look.

For me, however, much of it was all a bit too predictable and unfulfilling and quite a lot of the time I had the feeling that the dancers weren’t being challenged either.

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