Mini-review – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – 2010 visit to Sadler’s Wells


Originally I had no intention of going to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at Sadler’s Wells – I’d seen them back in Seattle and both programs featured a repeat of a major (and very old work) they did then. (I also saw them in London in 2007, for the record.) But then I was clued into a live broadcast at the White House of a dance program honoring Judith Jamison. I flicked over in time to see Ashley Bouder finish a Balanchine dance (the reason why the whole clip has now been pulled off YouTube, shame on you, Balanchine Trust Members, for being so selfish), then a truly tremendous bit with the Alvin Ailey troupe performing a bit of “Revelations.” I got so excited about my President actually doing something live, on the internets, that represented me and my interests and my country (for once not embarassing me) that I got all excited and went and bought tickets for BOTH programs the next day. And a big thanks to Sadler’s Wells and their policy of making all of their performances affordable; without 15 quid seats, I would not have been able to do it.

Anyway. So what is there to say about a group of dancers that I feel represent me, as an American? They have a wide variety of figures and colors and a richer racial composition than you might expect; they dance, to me, as individuals, with choreography that lets them say who they are rather than trying to entirely disappear in some unachievable perfect unison. Yet, dancing together, each of them letting themselves be the unique dancer he or she is, I found they worked very much as a team, not at all like Russian dancers who, when dancing together, attempts to show off and be “the star;” to me, the Alvin Ailey dancers did not seem so much striving to be better than every one else on stage, but each of them aimed to be excellent while being part of the group. I was reminded of the superiority of home-made cookies; the host of irregularities work together to make a superior flavor and texture to beaten-into-uniformity store bought goods.

As to the programs, well, both have Revelations, and I found it nearly as exciting and pulse-raising today as I did two days earlier; the music is fantastic and the dance is so illustrative of the music and its message that it, well, it is a classic of 20th century American dance like The Great Gatsby is a classic of 20th century American literature; it is iconic and its no wonder that by ending on it, the audience has been delivering a standing ovation every night. It thrills me to have this representing me. This is American dance. These are American people. It’s fantastic.

Still, the question is … where is the group going? Is it moving forward? And, well, I’m a little bit worried after seeing the range of new works presented in the two programs. Specifically, “Hymn” and “Anointed,” the two pieces that round out the second program, are inward looking works of hagiography, worshiping the company’s founder in a way I found … well, it created bad dance. I blame Anna Deavere Smith, who bears full responsibility for the text spoken over the dancing, for having a complete lack of self-awareness as to when she’d crossed the line into being just too damned wordy. “Anointed” was much more of a celebration of the dancers, but it was weighted down by the preceding piece.

Program one, though, had a work of outstanding merit, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen on the Sadler’s Wells stage this year: “The Hunt,” a work for six men dressed in black skirts with red linings that flashed as the swirled and leapt and raced across the stage. Its ultramasculinity and feeling of threat between the dancers made it far more effective than the limp, overdone work Hofesh Schecter trotted across the same stage just this summer: instead of a bunch of claptrap accompanied by painfully loud music, choreographer Robert Battle gave us dance without distractions, and the company gave it a production that showed how amazing and talented they are. I want to go think the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey for making the investment in the creation of this new work (2010!): we have all benefited from their generosity.

As this piece followed the classic (1971) “Suite Otis,” a pink-on-pink tribute to Otis Redding, it’s clear that the first program is the one not to miss. I was a little too relaxed to be moved by the quiet “Dancing Spirit,” but the delicious solo “In/Side,” a male solo by Battle danced powerfully by Kirven James Boyd to Nina Simone’s heartbreaking “Wild Is the Wind,” was a lesson in how to own a stage all by your lonesome. And the two pieces together made it clear that, while still very much wrapped up in its history, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is a group of dancers unlike any other. Here’s hoping more people come forward to fund the expansion of their repertoire; ultimately, it’s a gift that benefits everyone who loves dance.

NOTE: After I published this, I discovered that Robert Battle is taking over the reins of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from Judith Jamison. Based on the quality of the work he presented at Sadler’s Wells, I am very enthused about the company’s future prospects. See you next time!

(This review is for a performance of the second rep that took place on Friday, September 17th, and of the first rep that took place on Sunday, September 19th. The company continues on at Sadler’s Wells through Saturday, September 25th, 2010. For a more lucid review of “Annointed,” see Roslyn Sulcas’s take in The New York Times.)

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5 Responses to “Mini-review – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – 2010 visit to Sadler’s Wells”

  1. Tweets that mention Mini-review – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – 2010 visit to Sadler’s Wells « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alice Lagnado and webcowgirl, paulstpancras. paulstpancras said: RT @AliceLagnado: RT @webcowgirl: Review: Alvin Ailey American Dance co @sadlers_wells Summary: program 1 rocks, program 2 not so much. […]

  2. juliette Johnson Says:

    Can I just set you right on something here: Anna Deavere Smith is what she terms a journalistic writer. She did not write the text for Hymn. The text was verbatim – drawn from interviews with Ailey, Jamieson and the Ailey dancers. It was simply all spoken with one voice- Deavere Smiths, but she retained the accents, pitches, pauses and idiosynchracies of each speaker.


    • webcowgirl Says:

      I understand that these were not Deavere Smith’s words, but as the author she was responsible for how she set the text up that was performed during the dance, and thus bears full responsibility for it being too wordy. It distracted from the dance; it would have been better to have had more shown and less said so that the audience could use their imagination more.

  3. Tubz Says:

    Loved the show. They were Jamming!!

    (1971) “Suite Otis,” a pink-on-pink tribute to Otis Redding. HOT – jamming hard. But why were the guys dressed in pink?

    Im gonna see it again..

    • webcowgirl Says:

      It was a very 70s thing, all that pink, and to ME it said, “I have confidence in my sexy self.” Wasn’t it a good night?

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