Kelly Apter, The Scotsman
When they’re out on tour, the dancers in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater end every show performing Revelations. Would that we could all end each day watching it. For there are moments in Alvin Ailey’s 1960 work that are as close to perfection as dance gets. Gravity-defying leaps, muscle-clenching steadiness, perfect leg extensions – and the kind of joyous movement that sends your hands clapping, body swaying and heart soaring. But Revelations is so much more than that. Be you atheist or believer, Ailey’s homage to the traditional spiritual songs of the American South can reach out and touch an audience like few other works.
That said, Christopher Huggins also moved us in all the right ways with his incredibly poignant Anointed. Choreographed to mark the imminent departure of artistic director Judith Jamison (the woman who took over the company after Ailey’s death in 1989) the piece overflows with emotion. Moby’s stirring score forms the perfect backdrop for Huggins’ movement, which goes from a tender duet between Jamison and Ailey, through a powerful all-female ensemble piece, to a wonderful celebration of the company as a whole.
Jenny Gilbert, The Independent
There is nothing in Britain like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
It’s not that black or mixed-race dance hasn’t made it into the mainstream. It’s that no dance of any kind has infiltrated the national consciousness the way Ailey’s has, over the pond. For this is a dance company that’s more than an institution, now celebrating its first half-century (the Mattel toy manufacturer has just brought out an Ailey Barbie doll to honour it). With its emotionally charged amalgam of ballet, Broadway and all-round athletic fabulousness, it’s become the embodiment of an ideal, a purveyor of identity, and a national icon on a par with Mount Rushmore.
Launching an eight-venue UK tour, the first of two programmes at Sadler’s Wells, as you’d expect, plays the heritage ticket, at least in part. George Faison’s Suite Otis, from 1971, glories in the iron-filings-in-the-tonsils vocals of vintage Otis Redding. Girls in swirly skirts and snake hipped guys gyrate and twirl, beam and flirt as the hits roll out. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is given to a chorus of stroppy females, who groom themselves for some coming encounter, then erupt in a froth of frustrated rage.
Luke Jennings, The Observer
There’s something curiously unchanging about Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. I’ve been watching them for more than three decades now, and though the choreographers change – there’s Ailey himself, but also dance-makers as diverse as Ulysses Dove and Hans van merlaManen – the work always seems to come from the same place. It’s the way they dance it: that liquid-hipped African-American style from which a cool self-mockery is never completely absent, and which shades, suddenly and unexpectedly, from the goofball to the meditative, from virtuosity to plangent longing.
Even the less engaging pieces, like George W Faison’s Otis Suite, a ponderous 1971 jazz-ballet set to Otis Redding, contain this ice-chip of melancholy. It’s elusive, but it’s there, and it’s what gives the company’s best work its multi-dimensional quality, linking it not only to an artistic and choreographic past, but to the wider grandeur and sorrow of the African-American experience.
Ronald K Brown’s Dancing Spirit, choreographed in 2009, is profoundly inflected with this sense of past-in-present. The lighting suggests a twilit evening, and as Duke Ellington plays on the soundtrack, a diagonal of dancing figures crosses the stage. A pattern emerges, with the leading pair forming a choreographic phrase which they then pass onto those following. Something about the dancers’ rounded shoulders and loosely swinging arms is more African than American, and Ellington’s rhythms are trodden out with unhurried precision. The costumes are united by colour – blues, violets and whites – but the styles vary, from ruched antebellum to nightclub casual, enhancing the impression of intersecting time-frames.
Zoe Anderson, The Independent
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which kicks off a UK tour at Sadler’s Wells, is best known for Revelations. Created by Alvin Ailey in 1960, it showcases the strength of the dancers, and the company’s roots in modern dance and African-American culture.
George W Faison’s Suite Otis, from 1971, sets a pink-clad cast strutting and boogieing to songs by Otis Redding. Men swagger with thrusting hips, while women go into giggly groups. One couple dance cheek-to-cheek, with waggling bottoms and exaggerated kissy faces.
The choreographer Robert Battle is the Ailey company’s director-designate, due to replace its charismatic present leader, the former dancer Judith Jamison. Battle’s The Hunt is a macho dance for bare-chested men in sarongs. They stride into wrestling poses, swinging their shoulders fiercely.
Clement Crisp, The Financial Times
With its golden jubilee already celebrated, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – to give its full title – is a much-loved and much-lauded ensemble, and vastly popular. What distinguishes its performances is that vividly communicated enthusiasm for dancing, whole-hearted, whole-bodied, that has ever marked African-American dance. So it proved again on Tuesday night when the troupe returned for a season at Sadler’s Wells.
I remember the company’s debuts here in the 1960s and the delight we found in just such artistry. Perhaps the performances then were something less polished when its signature work Revelations was freshly made and the company’s ethos was necessarily more assertive, than we see now. But the power of the movement, its depth of feeling and commitment seem unchanged, and in this lies the strength of its identity.
Mark Monahan, Telegraph
Over her 20-odd years as director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Judith Jamison has proved an exceptionally charismatic and inspirational figurehead, and has kept the chiefly African-American company steaming proudly ahead. But the troupe’s new works have often been unworthy of its wonderful dancers – imagine magnificent racehorses charged with ferrying children around a beach, and you get some idea. And her 1993 piece, Hymn, which launches their second programme of work at Sadler’s Wells this month, sadly strays into this category.
At once a tribute to the late Ailey and company mission-statement, this collaboration with actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith is passionate, personal, grandly conceived, and somehow just not at all exciting. The particularly African-influenced ensembles that top-and-tail it have a certain energy, one or two of the intervening solos a certain elegance. But there is little originality in the movement-quality (or, for that matter, Robert Ruggieri’s mainly percussive score), and the whole affair is weighed down by relentless voiceovers. A time-passer only, regrettably.
How different Anointed, which follows. Created this year by former company dancer Christopher L Huggins, this three-parter tries less self-consciously to embody the AAADT qualities of athleticism, sensuousness and cultural inclusivity, and yet succeeds so much better.
Ismene Brown, The Arts Desk
Alvin Ailey dancers have been dancing about survival, grit, positivity and joy in the Lord for half a century now, and even though the parents of last night’s dancers may not have been born when Ailey did the unthinkable and launched a black dance company in the dark days of 1958 America, the company still evidently has an urge to rejoice running in its veins.
The regular returns of AAADC to Britain – and there’s a big nationwide tour this time – are constant wake-up calls to the spirit. How can you sit down-in-the-mouth about anything at all when you’re watching a girl haughtily unfolding her shoulders and power rippling down her arm into a curling hand, or swishing her big skirt and prancing high on bare feet as if walking on mountain-tops?
There is such vim and innocence in the movement style that’s evolved at Ailey’s – a ballet-meets-showtime-meets-salsa-meets-pure-bolshie that sweeps through the body without a single inhibition. Ailey girls must be some of the most beautiful creatures on a stage anywhere, and that may be the feminist influence of the long-serving artistic director Judith Jamison, an Amazonian figure on the same inspirational level as Martha Graham was to her dancers.
Neil Norman, The Stage
Since Ailey’s death in 1989, Judith Jameson has led the company in the spirit of her predecessor. Now in her last year as artistic director, she brings together a collection of works that illustrate the company’s strengths.
Made in 1971, George W Faison’s Suite Otis is a distinctive tribute to the legendary soul singer Otis Redding. Following a snatch of the whistled chorus from Dock of the Bay, the cast throw themselves into a vivid interpretation of Redding’s work, creating male/female dialogues that are elegant, athletic and sometimes very funny. Vibrant group pieces alternate with duets and a standout version of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction spills over the rim of the stage with sexual joy.
In sharp contrast, Robert Battle’s The Hunt, made earlier this year, is a dynamic six-hander for men that feeds off images of warrior rites, bloodletting and possession. Danced to the clattering percussion of Les Tambours du Bronx, its ferocious tribalism recalls elements of Hofesh Schecter’s work, without the political subtext.
Judith Mackrell, The Guardian
The Alvin Ailey company are an American institution, a much-loved embodiment of the ideal of the melting pot nation. But for UK audiences, it can be hard to get the measure of a company that seems at once so physically dynamic and stylistically so old-fashioned.
The company has a reverence for its own history that can make its repertory appear overburdened with past work. In its signature piece, Revelations, this respect for tradition makes sense. Ailey’s celebration of his African-American heritage was pioneering in 1960 – and, danced as well as it is by the current company, it remains grandly expressive.
There seems no reason, however, to accord the same respect to George Faison’s Suite Otis, from 1971. Its music – a vintage collection of Otis Redding – can certainly claim classic status, but its fusion of jazz choreography and mainstream modern dance has not aged well. Most of the sequences look as though they’ve been lifted straight from the classroom, and for all their perky, flirtatious allusions to the songs’ lyrics, they are irritatingly deaf to the music of Redding’s thrilling voice. Clifton Brown is one of the few dancers who manages to impose some elegant phrasing of his own. Otherwise, Otis Suite has lost whatever soul it once possessed.