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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre

'Revelations,' 'Night Creature,' 'Pas de Duke,' 'The River,''The Firebird,' 'The Golden Section'

by Ana Abad-Carles

Tuesday 4 & Thursday 6 September 2007 - Sadler's Wells, London

It is always a pleasure to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and on this occasion, Sadler’s Wells has ensured that the group brings three different programmes and stays for two weeks. The audience’s response has been rapturous and, watching the company on opening night, there was little doubt as to the reason for that: The dancers seem to keep getting better and better every time they come. Bringing a whole evening of Ailey’s works made the dancers feel so at ease in their founder’s style that by the time they got to perform “Revelations” they seemed to have been born to dance that work.

The first programme opened with Ailey’s “Night Creature”. Being the first piece on opening night, the work failed to engage as much as it should have done, though the dancers, especially Renee Robinson, had the feeling and edge for it. “Pas de Duke” followed and Linda Celeste Sims was simply glorious to look at. She had the technique, the drive and the sharp rhythmic response needed in her variations. Mathew Rushing, however, failed to live up to Baryshnikov’s role (who would?). Though his technique was fine, he failed to capture that Baryshnikov flair for sheer joy and excitement.

“The River” was the second part of the programme and it featured some extraordinary dancing, as well as being the dance work that showed its age the most. The different sections represented various phases and stages of a river flowing and, though some of the choreography managed to convey that vividly, there were parts that were a bit less audacious in their choreographic themes. Having said that, Alicia J. Graf in the “Vortex” section and Robinson and Clifton Brown in the “Twin Cities” sections were simply inspiring in their sense of breathing, passion and transcendence of their interpretations.

I don’t think there is much one can say about “Revelations” that has not been said before. If only that the company danced it as I had not seen it danced for a few years. This might be due to the fact that the whole programme had slowly made the dancers settle into their style and by the time they reached the end, they simply went for it with total passion and abandonment. The performance was simply outstanding. The whole company looked wonderful and the individual and group performances showed an understanding and a need to communicate their choreographer’s ideas and intentions that can only move the audience and make us understand that there are works of art that can transcend time.

The third programme opened with “Firebird” by Maurice Béjart. I had not seen this work for over 20 years, when Victor Ullate staged it for the then newly-born Spanish national company. Though Béjart has never been a favourite choreographer of mine, one has to admire his convictions and the theatrical flair of some of his works. Brown was a good Firebird, fuelling revolutionary ideals amongst the crowd. The group that takes up his creed were also remarkable and, it has to be said, Béjart has always made very technically demanding choreography for most of his dancers, so it was a good performance, though I thought the dancers needed to feel more comfortable in the steps made up by the choreographer.

The second piece was a much more enjoyable work, as it is not so easy to see Twyla Tharp’s works so well danced and with so much energy. “The Golden Section” made the company glow and succeed through the sheer athletic moves that Tharp combined, in her usual style, with that wonderful tongue in cheek tone that characterises her work. The apparent chaos that always dominates her work gave the dancers the possibility to thrive through the complex combinations of trios, solos, and groups. The dancers really showed off in Tharp’s work and what a pleasure it is to revisit this wonderful choreographer’s work and see how enjoyable and daring her choreography is.

The evening closed again with “Revelations” and, though I thought the cast on opening night was simply magnificent, the company put on a second cast. Once again, the evening ended on a high note with the audience cheering and giving these wonderful dancers their appreciation for their passion, sincerity and the power to communicate beyond the stage up to the last row of the amphitheatre – a rare achievement nowadays
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