Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is touring the UK for the first time in six years, presented by the amazing Dance Consortium.

Hailed by the US Congress as "a vital American cultural ambassador to the world", the company perform original works by the late Alvin Ailey - including his most famous and critically acclaimed piece Revelations - as well works by more contemporary choreographers who contribute to the company's repertory. The opening night bill at the Birmingham Hippodrome features Ronald K Brown's Open Door, Paul Taylor's Piazzolla Caldera and Alvin Ailey's seminal Revelations.

Open Door begins with a central couple (Constance Stamatiou and Jamar Roberts) in a rhythmic modern duet, featuring repeated themes of moving forward, falling back, puzzlement, despair, and rebuilding. The Afro-Cuban beat builds and the company thrill with high kicking and fast turning, the choreography developing to include Ailey-esque stag jumps and quick, neat leaps. It's musically intricate and physically demanding, with super-fast footwork tucked into drawn-out, Latin phrases. These continual changes of pace and movement dynamic are mesmerising to watch.

Reflecting the company's rich choreographic heritage, Open Door combines symbolic movements mimicking everyday actions with Cuban-inspired salsa, deep lunging movements from Afro-American dance, and the swaying hips and laid-back attitude of modern day hip-hop. The dancers are given freedom to express their personality within the choreography, acknowledging the different cultural styles and influences within the company. This melting pot combines with the pulsating music (Luis Demetrio, Arturo O'Farrill and Tito Puente) and Al Crawford's multifaceted lighting design to create an sensation of exploration, discovery and rebirth.

Paul Taylor's Piazzolla Caldera gets off to a more traditional start, and runs the risk of becoming a little cliched as several couples perform sizzling tango duets on a shadowy stage. However, the choreography becomes more playful and exciting as Taylor fuses modern influences with traditional tango, creating a space in between these two dance paradigms. As the lamplights start to swing dizzyingly overheard, two drunken men (Kanji Segawa and Samuel Lee Roberts) perform a staggering duet, with gravity-defying lifts and hilarious innuendo.

Hope Boykin leads the company as the lovelorn woman, seemingly physically wounded by her emotional loss. Whilst her performance is not as smooth and effortless as other company members, Boykin gives an utterly committed performance packed with passion and fire.

The triple bill closes with the astonishing Revelations, which has been a mainstay of the Ailey repertoire since its premiere in 1960. In fact, it is one of the first dances that new company members learn. Reflecting African-American cultural heritage, from the deepest grief to the holiest joy, Revelations combines religious music, gospel songs and blues.

The piece opens in stunning simplicity with "I Been 'Buked", in which the dimly lit company unites to become a single organism which opens, closes, breathes and sighs. Dancers Ghrai DeVore and Jermaine Terry embody raw sorrow and longing in "Fix Me, Jesus" with extended lifts, reaching arms and the iconic Ailey Lateral T. A trio of male dancers pick up the pace in "Sinner Man", with fast running and spinning elements.

The finale of Revelations, "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham", exudes pure joy, with jubilant claps, reaching arms and swaying hips. Constance Stamatiou leads the company with an incomparably expressive performance; every tilt of her head conveys a new story, creating a conversation with the audience.

The organic, dynamic movement of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater is never more apparent than in Revelations, with each and every dancer conveying joy, despair, rapture and suffering with every step. This incredible freedom of movement seems to come from the very soul, each one giving their own interpretation of Ailey's choreography with the same infectious energy.

As acknowledged in a post-show interview, to see Alvin Ailey's choreography (and in particular Revelations) is to understand the essence of being human. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presents life in all its intricacies and complications, live on stage for our utmost enjoyment. Although this company is over 50 years old, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater remain a breath of fresh air for the contemporary dance industry - and long may they prosper.

Photo: Gert Krautbauer Zurich

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From This Author Emma Cann

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