Showing as part of their mixed bill programme, the celebrated modern dance company bring four contemporary pieces to London

By: Sep. 06, 2023

Review: ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER: CONTEMPORARY VOICES, Sadler's Wells The celebrated dance company which still bears the name of its founder, Alvin Ailey (1931-1989), returns to London with a selection of work under the umbrella title of Mixed Bill.

Tonight's selection was curated as Contemporary Voices, and bookended by the playful vibrancy of Kyle Abraham's Are You in Your Feelings? and the company's signature work, Revelations, created by Ailey himself. 

The dancers work within a wonderful score of music by Black artists for Abraham's playful vignettes about love, moving seamlessly from "I Only Have Eyes For You" by The Flamingoes through Shirley Brown's "Woman to Woman" and Erykah Badu's "I'll Call You Back" to Summer Walker's "Session 32". 

The men on the prowl are preening and out to impress; the women are having none of it until connection comes on their own terms. There are powerful duets between two women, and later two men. There is a sense of celebration in the air, where reaction to the music is key. It is about taking universal themes of getting together, staying close, breaking up, and responding to the chemistry of those around you.

Dan Scully's lighting makes the most of the space with Karen Young's costumes giving a casual feel to proceedings. A twelve-strong group of dancers dance to the music of soul, R&B, and hip hop and the effect is an exhilharating exploration of Black culture. The final group piece is passionate and full of youthful bravado.

The middle act was made up of two pieces choreographed by the company's artistic director of over twenty years, Robert BattleFor Four was created during the pandemic, when dancers had to rehearse and create in their own living rooms and across zoom calls. Utilising a scintiliating jazz score by Wynton Marsalis, this is energetic, cheeky, vibrant and brief, with excellent work by Khalia Campbell, Deidre Rogers, Renaldo Maurice, and Solomon Dumas. The projection of the American flag was intriguing, the sense of both being confined and being freed well conveyed.

Battle's Unfold is a graceful and classic gem of a duet between Ashley Mayeux and Jeroboam Bozeman, to the music of Gustave Charpentier ("Depuis Le Jour" from Louise) as sung by Leontyne Price. It is tender, intense, and full of sensual grace and style, from its fluttering hands to tender holds, enhanced by Al Crawford's sensitive lighting.

Finally, 1960's Revelations is probably one of the best known modern dance pieces, with a series of short dances set to traditional spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs and holy blues. Each section was rapturously received, from the pure and exposed solo of Vernard J Glmore in "I Wanna Be Ready" with all its physical dexterity and emotional openness, to the amusing and cleverly staged "Wade in the Water" featuring Ashley Kaylynn Green, Yannick Lebrun, and Constance Stamatiou.

From the beginning of the company seeming confined and introverted in "I've Been Buked" through to the enthused and joyous finale of "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham", it is easy to see why this piece continues to be performed over and over, however (as dancer Chalvar Montiero states in his programme introduction) daunting it may be to follow those who have gone before.

Montiero, alongside Isaiah Day and Kanji Segawa, performs in the "Sinner Man" section which has the song most popularly associated with Nina Simone arranged and adapted here by Howard A Roberts. The trio's thoughtful movement and athletic endeavours are highlighted by the costumes of Ves Harper and the lighting of Nicola Cernovitch.

In the description on the venue website for this revival, we hear that Ailey "described the memories that inspired Revelations as “blood memories” because they were so strong, he felt they were part of him as much as the blood that ran through his veins."

As the most widely seen modern dance work in the world, Revelations has become part of the DNA of contemporary and popular dance, and it is a privilege to finally experience it on a live stage, alongside its more modern yet complementary 21st century cousins.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Mixed Bill at Sadler's Wells until 16 September. Alvin Ailey's Second Company Ailey 2 starts a 12-venue Dance Consortium UK tour on 19 September.

Photo credit: Paul Kolnik


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