The joy of dance: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Sadler’s Wells, London
September 5, 2019

Eleanor Sofflet

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre again delighted a lively audience with their second Sadler’s Wells programme. Throughout, the dancers graced the stage with precision and technical strength, moving with ease and confidence.

En is Jessica Lang’s 100th ballet. Her first work for the company, it’s a crowd pleaser. The choreography is well-constructed. The dancers move in circular formations and pack-like unison, the choreography showing heightened understanding of Jakub Ciupinski’s complex and intriguing score with its moments of beautiful suspense.

The dance is energetic. Sharp turns, jumps and long lines are all displayed with great athleticism. Jaqueline Harris stood out in particular. Sometimes, though, there’s a dreamy atmosphere, helped by the simplicity of the eclipse-like set, which adds to the beauty and spirituality of the work. Exciting and entertaining, it was a great start.

Jacqueline Green and Solomon Dumas in Ronald K. Brown's The CallPhoto by Paul Kolnik
Jacqueline Green and Solomon Dumas in Ronald K. Brown’s The Call
Photo by Paul Kolnik

Ronald K. Brown’s choreography blends both modern and African dance in The Call. There is a flair and elegance to the piece that sees the quintet swirling and turning across the stage with Yannick Lebrun providing many enjoyable highlights. Joy and grace are especially apparent when the dancers rejoice in the last moments.

There are frequent shifts in a score that ranges from Bach to Mary Lou Williams Trio and a joyful World music number at the end. The contrast does alter the tone of the piece but the different dance styles are merged well.

In Robert Battle’s Juba, a quartet, clad in blue, performed with strength and intensity. Often relentless, it’s a sort of abstract, modern day Rite of Spring.

Both as a group and individually, the dancers performed with great conviction. The choreography features very quick footwork and many turns. At one point, Harris (wonderful again) flies through the air with the support of the other dancers. The intensity builds along with John Mackey’s complex and fast-paced score. It’s rhythmically complexity too. You wonder how they keep up.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Robert Battle's Juba Photo Nan Melville
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Robert Battle’s Juba
Photo Nan Melville

So to the evening’s final, but most iconic piece, Revelations. It is quite simply a joy to watch from beginning to end. It is colourful, rich in detail and full of meaning that still holds relevance and significance today. Alvin Ailey’s choreography, the dancers’ commitment and dedication, and the very catchy score are ultimately what make it so memorable and loved. ‘Buked,’ ‘Sinner Man’ and ‘Wade in the Water’ are amongst the memorable sections, each bringing a soulful and passionate performance from the cast.

Again, and it is worth repeating, it is wonderful to see dancers displaying such joy for their work. Of course, the impressive feats and technical skills are a standout, but that only adds to the powerful and affecting legacy that Ailey has left behind. They left to much cheering and a very deserved standing ovation.