Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Programme C: Ounce of Faith, Members Don’t Get Weary, Ella, Revelations
London, Sadler’s Wells
10 September 2019
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s visits to London never disappoint, and anticipation of their third programme was not beset by any doubts, rather intense enthusiasm. Having watched the company since childhood, I find it is impossible not to instantly appreciate the sheer beauty and energy they radiate, the individuality of each dancer – the absence of uniformity (except in the execution of the steps).
Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Ounce of Faith opened the quadruple bill, premiered earlier this year at the Lincoln Centre, New York. Based on the premise that when someone believes in you, it can alter the path of your life, it was a very fitting start to the programme. The statuesque form of Khalia Campbell stepping towards the audience in a languorous solo, her impossibly long limbs stretching beyond the norm, her striking beauty captivating, the die was cast. Then, when the curtain rises on a stage filled with dancers pulsating with unbridled vigour, colourful costumes (Mark Eric) flooding the auditorium with warmth, this generated a real sense of ‘feel good’ factor. The commitment, the power and unwavering determination was easily discernible. An exuberant display of buoyancy, the action did not let up for thirty minutes.
Jamar Roberts’ Members Don’t Get Weary was his choreographic debut on the company (December 2017). It’s his response the to the social landscape in the United States, the notion of suffering from ‘the blues’ – that thing we call depression these days. The intensity of those emotions was amply reflected in the performances. Music was Dear Lord and Olé by John Coltrane and though its theme may have been melancholic – there was a certain amount of ‘fight back’ going on, on stage. Broad steps, a huge sense of yearning, especially at the start, developed into sensuous movement. Jacqueline Green was most eye-catching, as was Michael Jackson, Jr.
The piece that made an extraordinary impact in spite of its brevity (just 5 minutes), was artistic director Robert Battle’s Ella with dancers Daniel Harder and Renaldo Maurice. To Ella Fitzgerald’s Airmail Special, this was originally created as a solo in 2008, then reinvented as a duet in 2016. It can be danced by either males or females, the main requirements being an ability to move with unrestrained velocity combined with larger than life personalities. Harder and Maurice scored highly in both. How they achieve such height in the air and still manage to stay within the parameters of the rhythm and phrasing is virtually superhuman.
Revelations, Ailey’s signature piece, has been performed with every programme, every season. It is a miracle that it still looks, unremittingly, as vital as it does. We should be tired of it but it remains a beacon of all that we love about dance. Created in January 1960, the memories of watching earlier performances do not diminish, yet new casts bring a fresh veneer. Rather than thinking, ‘not this again’, one is able anticipate and relish the pleasure that favourite moments will bring. It is all magnificent. Maurice, Campbell and Danica Paulos were tremendous in Daniel (Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel); Sinner Man makes your heart race and in the final moments of Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham (which always prompts an encore), you’re floating in a happy bubble.
Ailey dancers have such a mastery of so many different genres of dance that nothing appears insurmountable. There is no half-mast and an abiding memory is one that they have a phenomenal range of movement; a luscious, velvet look; prodigious dynamism and astonishing stamina. Unmissable.