Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – Programme C – Ounce of Faith / Members Don’t Get Weary / Ella / Revelations
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Reviewed – 10th September 2019
“These are dancers at the very top of their game, with bodies at the peak of strength and grace, tuned to the highest level of expression“
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is currently at Sadler’s Wells. Over the course of ten days, the company is showcasing its unique choreographic style, fusing contemporary with African, Asian and Native American dance, along with jazz and hip-hop influenced movement. The company is presenting three programmes, each ending with Ailey’s signature piece, Revelations, created in 1960; quite possibly the most famous piece in the global contemporary dance repertoire. All the work stems from African American experience, from ‘blood memories’ as Ailey termed his own Texan childhood, and is danced to the rhythms of both Africa and America, blending gospel, soul, blues and jazz with more contemporary beats and percussive rhythms.
The three newer pieces in Programme C – Ounce of Faith, Members Don’t Get Weary and Ella are linked both thematically and musically, and there is a clear through line and feeling of progression to them which makes for immensely satisfying viewing. Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Ounce of Faith takes its title from a piece of spoken word used in the work, ‘when someone has an ounce of faith in you, it can change the course of your life’ and the choreography physically highlights the beauty and value of support throughout, particularly in the stunning trio danced by three male dancers in the first third of the piece. The work moves from individual struggle, in which we literally see the physical pressure of the world manifest in the body of a single female dancer, through high-energy ensemble sections, to more intimate manifestations of togetherness, to a moment of stillness garnered from a finale in which we, along with the dancers, surrender to pure movement. It is by turns beautiful, tender, sexy and exciting. And full of soul and pride. It shouts, WE ARE HERE AND TOGETHER WE ARE STRONG and had the audience whooping with pleasure as the curtain came down last night. These are dancers at the very top of their game, with bodies at the peak of strength and grace, tuned to the highest level of expression. It’s a moving and joyous experience to watch.
Members Don’t Get Weary is Jamar Roberts’ extraordinary creation, which comes from the music of John Coltrane. Watching this piece is akin to watching Coltrane’s music made flesh. The dancers simply become the music; they are not dancing alongside it, but embodying it. They simply ARE the music. It is as though the notes issuing from that alto sax, piano and bass leave the instruments and morph into human form. The piece begins in semi-narrative mode, when we watch a micro-drama unfold, but it really comes into its own when the narrative is left behind and the soul and passion of Coltrane’s playing is simply danced out in front of us. Thrilling, mesmerising, unforgettable. The dancers move like liquid in their shades of blue, but they are on fire.
In the final piece, before the closing Revelations, we are treated to the five minute burst of joy that is Ella. Ella Fitzgerald was famous for her virtuoso quick-fire scatting, and in this exuberant duet, Robert Battle’s choreography matches the playfulness, comedy and pure frenzied fun of Ella’s live concert performance of Airmail Special. It is fast and furious, and the two male dancers who danced it last night seemed to be having the time of their lives, which meant we did too.
Despite its sacred place in the contemporary dance canon, it seems a strange choice to perform Revelations as the closing piece to each programme. It is still an important work, but to continually finish with it seems to take away from the sensational new work that is surely Ailey’s true legacy.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Paul Kolnik
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 14th September
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: