Gracing London with their presence to begin their first ever UK tour, the highly acclaimed dance company and ambassadors for the African-American cultural experience, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, hit the stage of Sadler’s Wells like a thunderbolt.
Opening with Love Stories as the first of two programmes, the gorgeous Clifton Brown teases the audience by walking through rehearsal steps before throwing himself fully into the dance, luxuriating in the movements choreographed by artistic director Judith Jamison.
The company’s dancing is joyful, with bursts of excitement and fits of control - they strut, pose and wiggle on the edges of the dance floor as duetting couples take centrestage, where they flirt using salsa steps, samba rhythms, club dancing and hip hop/street styles. Their energy is explosive and their passion for the movement insatiable. There is hardly room on the stage to contian Dwana Adiaha Smallwood’s rhythmic brilliance, or Abdur Rahim Jackson’s funky moves.
Ulysses Dove’s Vespers takes a more serious tone. A percussive drum score, black dresses and ordered chairs set a sombre scene for a moving exploration of the control and manipulation, freedom and order of religion.
Next comes Solo - a movement monologue for three men set to Bach’s glorious Violin Suite, choreographed by Hans van Manen. Clifton Brown, Glenn Allen Sims and Matthew Rushing inject humour and sass into their lyrical solos, incorporating tiny tinges of jazz, Broadway and cheeky engagement with the audience.
To capture the roots of the company, both programmes round up with the classic Revelations, choreographed by the master himself, Alvin Ailey. A small shining light is carried across the stage on occasion to lets us know that Ailey’s spirit still prevails. With soul-stirring gospel music and Texan memories of joy, hope and grief, it is a rip-roaring finale. Be warned - stay in your seats for a last encore treat and also know that you will be singing “Rocka My Soul” for days to come.
The second programme packs another feisty punch - you can’t beat a bit of Stevie Wonder for an opener. All credit to the company that even in David Parson’s Shining Star, when they are hamming it up in white silken shirts, flashing disco lights and dancing to classic eighties pop band Earth, Wind and Fire, they manage to get it totally right.
They polish off street moves with a balletic flourish of the wrist and ease from pure lyrical contemporary movement to high energy lindy hop. They show off their fierce strength with Dunham and Graham contractions, before attacking philly-bop and hip hop street moves with overpowering energy. In anything they do, the enjoyment and love of the movement is electrifying.
Parson’s Caught is surely the high point of both programmes, with company (and audience) favourite Clifton Brown again taking the solo role. The piece is a genius fusion of strobe lighting and powerful jumps - we see photographic snippets of Brown in action as he seems to defy gravity, flying around the stage, the light catching him only when he is in mid-air.
Judith Jamison’s Reminiscin’ is a longer narrative piece set in a bar with a bluesy/jazz feel to it. There are more tender duets and flared tempers over partner choices, much in the same vein as Love Stories.
It is hardly possible to write about the legendary Alvin Ailey Company without doing them appropriate justice. You must, must, must go and see them to believe it.