Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Modern Masters

Sadler’s Wells, London
September 6, 2023

Whisper it very quietly, but Ailey’s Modern Masters programme entertains. Unashamedly so. It’s easy on the eye. On the ear too. And the dancers are fabulous. They don’t just embrace the company style, they are absolutely at one with it. It is part of who they are. All have incredible core strength and tremendous stamina. And it’s needed. Most of the works are littered with non-stop fast sections. Clarity too. Unison means just that. All the time. But with that strength comes grace and bags of presence, especially in solo moments.

Unlike many dance companies, and especially it sometimes seems, ballet companies, Ailey has not only hung onto its style, but continues to embrace it. It runs deep, even in a lot of the new work. In a way, that is to be celebrated, even if it does feel rather old-fashioned. You also can’t help feeling that has stymied the company from truly moving on, which can be done while still respecting the past, just not being quite to tied to it.

AAADT’s Constance Stamatiou, Chalvar Monteiro and Sarah Daley-Perdomo
in Ronald K. Brown’s Dancing Spirit
Photo Paul Kolnik

Injury meant some late rejigging of the evening. Twyla Tharp’s Roy’s Joys, a pure dance piece set to recordings by jazz trumpeter Roy Eldridge, and the work that held most interest, was unavoidable replaced by two Robert Battle shorts.

The opener, Ronald K. Brown’s Dancing Spirit, is a tribute to former Ailey director and dancer Judith Jamison. It’s a slow burner. A deceptively simple yet very engaging first section is quietly, different dancers repeating a phrase in unison with one occasionally breaking out in a series of pirouettes and attitude turns.

Thereon, it grows and develops. It’s pure dance, all as smooth as the jazz of Duke Ellington and Winton Marsalas to which forms much of the accompaniment. There’s also Radiohead and War. It feels a little like an easy going jazz club as the dancers lose themselves in the sounds. At the heart of the work was the perfect Constance Stamatiou, who it is easy to read as Jamieson. One potent solo before being joined by the equally impressive Yannick Lebrun in a duet was a stand-out moment. Both appear to look up and out, as if Jamieson herself was sitting where a box would be in the circle.

There’s then quite an upbeat party dance before Stamatiou has another solo, dancing as if Selene, the Goddess of the huge moon behind her, before an ensemble finish. Dancing Spirit would have made a fine closing piece, but this is Ailey, so Revelations it must be, of which more anon.

Robert Battle’s For Four
Photo Paul Kolnik

More jazz followed in Battle’s For Four, which is just that. To music by Marsalis, it’s also a lot of fun. Everyone gets their moment to shine, but a quite balletic solo filled with great, fast, clean turns by Deidre Rogan was a particular highlight.

Although largely filled with Joyful freedom, there is a darker moment when Battle uses the American flag very pointedly, first in a backdrop but then in lighting that seems to bear down on and suffocate one dancer, effectively making it a symbol of oppression.

Another Battle short, Unfold, is a duet to Leontyne Price’s recording of Gustave Charpentier’s aria ‘Depuis le jour’ from his opera, Louise. It’s about the first day of love. The choreography is forceful and nuanced. Ashley Mayeux and Jeroboam Bozeman revealed beautifully the many faces of their relationship moving easily between passion, anger and intimacy.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations
Photo Christopher Duggan

And so to Revelations. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is iconic. But even more so is the company’s signature work.

While admiring the choreography and its timelessness, it’s a piece that has never really stirred my soul, although this occasion came closer than most. Maybe that’s something to do with the fact that the company concludes almost every programme with it. Even the tastiest of fruits start to become uninviting if you feast on them too much. As iconic as it is, as well danced as it always is, I certainly don’t want to see it every time I see Ailey, just as I don’t want to see Serenade (which does ‘do it’ for me) every time I go to New York City Ballet.

But there were moments that tickled the tastebuds. Caroline T. Dartey and James Gilmer were divine in ‘Fix Me, Jesus,’ absolutely at one with each other. Vernard J. Gilmore was incredibly strong and powerful in ‘I Wanna Be Ready.’ Best of all was ‘Sinner Man’. The trio of Soloman Dumas, Kanji Segawa and, especially Christopher R. Wilson were outstanding.

It all made even me sit up in admiration. It will be interesting to see what the younger dancers of Ailey 2 bring to it when they tour in a few weeks, though.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater are at Sadler’s Wells, London to September 16, 2023.

Ailey 2 tour the UK from September 19 to October 28, 2023. Visit for dates, venues and details.