On Tuesday 6th September, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presented their second programme as part of the visit to Sadler’s Wells.
The first piece of the evening was “Shining Star”, a piece choreographed in 2004 by the American choreographer David Parsons to the music of Earth, Wind & Fire. The ballet opened with a song choreographed for the ten dancers used in the piece. It was a promising start, but unfortunately, the dance as a whole did not live up to expectations. The remaining numbers 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 while watching the piece what a sad waste it was. The dancers are simply terrific and yet, they did not shine as one knows 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, it was a joy to watch and it challenged our expectations. Basically, the solo consisted of jumps and travelling 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. A great piece of theatrical inventiveness and entertainment.
Next came “Reminiscin’”, by the director of the company, Judith Jamison. The piece was created in 2005 and it showed, once again, how desperately this company needs a choreographer capable of showcasing the talent the group has. Like in “Shining Star”, the choreography fell flat in its intentions. Like in “Shining Star” 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 to remember. The movement was reminiscing of cliché imagery seen in many musicals well prior to our days. Only a duet performed by two men seemed to incorporate something new and challenging both choreographically and in their obvious sexual meaning.
Then, finally, came “Revelations” (1960) and it was then that the troupe, as it has become customary, came alive. Ailey’s masterpiece has managed to pass the test of time with flying honours. In fact, I am the first to admit that it was “Revelations” that I went to see, and by hearing the audience around me, I was not the only one.
“Revelations” is one of those dance works that manages to capture the essence of music, feeling, rhythm and technical challenge. 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 on, 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 resonace this song had, after the recent tragic events in New Orleans, was felt in the air.
From “Wade in the Water” 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, the glory of a heritage kept alive by the sheer joy of making it known to new audiences and generations. Pity that the company cannot find a figure of its stature capable of providing them with new work up to their standards. Still, we have to be grateful for their commitment and understanding to their past heritage and for their ability to make it relevant to all of us forty five years on!