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Theatre Review: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

5 October 16 words: Alison Kirkman
A celebration of African-American culture from the darkest moments to the most joyous

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theaters Belen Pereyra in Ronald K Browns Four Corners Photo by Paul Kolnik

It’s six years since this world famous dance troupe last visited Nottingham. Since then, a new artistic director has been appointed – Robert Battle – only the third in the company’s 58-year history.

Ailey himself died in 1989 but his spirit remains very much with the company through his work Revelations, which has ended every performance since it was first premiered in 1960. It’s a celebration of African-American culture from the darkest moments to the most joyous. In it, ten separate stories are told in three sections to a variety of music from holy blues to jubilant gospel.

Back in the 60s, just six dancers performed in the piece but, as the company has grown – it’s now 32 dancers strong – so too has Revelations. Today, all of them take part, and all are on stage at once in the closing Rocka My Soul number, making for a truly spectacular finale.

The evening’s quadruple bill began with Exodus, a work created in 2015 by acclaimed hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris. The whole piece feels like a statement about America’s trouble with gun laws. The opening scene is apocalyptic. Death and fear are everywhere. Dancers moan and cry in the darkness, moving slowly, zombie-like, across the stage.

AAADT Dancers in Rennie Harriss Exodus Photo by Paul Kolnik

Gradually, the mood and the lights lift. Combats and camouflage are changed for pure white costumes and and the African beats became more energetic. I found myself toe tapping and swaying in time. The final gunshot was unexpected but powerful – a man drops to the ground and the stage falls to black.

Four Corners, the fifth piece choreographer Ronald K Brown has made for the company, is full of spirituality. Dancers dressed in deep purple robes depict spiritual seekers. Four of them represent angels holding the four winds on the corners of the earth. They whirl like dervishes, undulate like ripples on water and connect with the audience directly through facial expression and wide open gestures that feel like an invitation to join in the dance.  

AAADTs Jacqueline Green in Alvin Aileys Revelations Photo by Paul Kolnik

After the Rain, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon to Spiegel Im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt is hauntingly beautiful. A duet, performed with effortless control and strength by Jacqueline Green and Yannick Lebrun, it stands out in perfect contrast to the rest of the bill. The stage is bright, pastel coloured costumes emphasise the long flowing limbs of the dancers. A sigh of appreciation emanates from the audience, followed by rapturous applause at the finish.

In 2008, in recognition of the company’s extensive touring schedule, which is reported to include 71 countries on six continents with an audience total estimated to be 25 million, the US Congress bestowed it with the prestigious accolade of ‘Cultural Ambassador to the World’. It’s a title the dancers are thoroughly proud of and a responsibility they take seriously: “It inspires us to always be the best we can be,” said Michael Jackson, Jr. in the Q&A session that followed.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this company for the first time and hope it won’t be another six years until they visit again. They fully deserved the extended applause and cheering at the end of the evening.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed at Nottingham Royal Concert Hall on Friday 30 September 2016.

Alvin Ailey website

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