Slick but more excitement needed: more from Alvin Ailey

Programme B at Sadler’s Wells, London
September 7, 2016

Charlotte Kasner

It says much for Alvin Ailey America Dance Theater that they have survived, nay thrived, following the early demise of their eponymous creator. In a climate where the arts are ever-beleaguered, this is no mean feat. They have brought a wide range of works to the Wells this season, albeit over-egging the pudding somewhat where Revelations is concerned.

Open Door opened the second evening of the visit, a jazzy meld of African and modern dance by Ronald K Brown, the sort of jazz that evokes sophisticated cocktail evenings in east side Manhattan or the expensive, marbled foyers of swish skyscraper hotels. Crunchily complex with minor seconds and other subtle dissonances entangled in intricate rhythms, it demands choreography to match. What it gets is rather bland. There is an overly long solo at the beginning which just edges into boredom before being rescued by some tight ensemble work. Faces were etched with concentration more of a grim determination to entertain rather than genuine joy.

Piazzolla CalderaPhoto  Paul Kolnik
Piazzolla Caldera
Photo Paul Kolnik

Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera kicks off with a famous Russian tango, Pyotr Konstantinovich Leshenko’s Heart. That was the end of the surprises though. Taylor packs none into his choreography although it is pleasant enough to watch. His version is not as ‘dirty’ as Argentinian tango. Dancers never get very close to each other and there is certainly none of the foot-tangling complexity to which one has become accustomed from Argentinian companies. UNESCO have actually listed Argentinian tango as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. From its beginnings in the slums of Buenos Aires and Montivideo, it has influences from slave culture that should chime with those in the northern section of the continent. Although hijacked by society in various tango crazes and tamed as a ballroom dance, tango, like flamenco, is at its best when performed with an eye to the poverty, oppression and rebellion at its roots. For all its watchability, this performance owed much more to the politer versions.

Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims in RevelationsPhoto Christopher Duggan
Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims in Revelations
Photo Christopher Duggan

As with every programme this tour, Ailey’s Revelations brings the evening to a close like a persistent but brightly coloured garden bloom that splurges its cheery yellow face everywhere come rain or shine. Sadly, Revelations does not grow in stature with frequent performances; its jollity seems increasingly forced. “Look we are celebrating our heritage,” it says, but the dancers looked weighed down with the responsibility. “Fix me Jesus” indeed. Oh the ladies fluttered their fans and the gentlemen obliged them accordingly but it was only when the men danced together that we saw a flicker of a suggestion of the excitement that the company seemed to be hiding.

As it happened, all of the works rather suited the sultry September night; the hot pinks, yellows, reds and oranges of costumes and set for all of the pieces helping summer to burn out in a blast of heat. Performances were however slick rather than passionate. The company dance as one, every turn, every gesture matched precisely but a bit robotically. One longed for some daring or danger, for someone to throw caution to the wind and really go for it. A section of the audience whooped and yelled at the conclusion of the evening but that is par for the course these days whatever is served up. A pity that not everyone was inspired to do the same.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continues at Sadler’s Wells (this and two other programmes) to September 17 before heading off on a month-long nationwide tour.

For Sadler’s Wells details and booking, click here or call the box office on 020 7863 8000.

For other tour dates and theatre links, click here.