Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Sadler's Wells, London
Friday 17 September 2010
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.
Ronald K Brown's Dancing Spirit has strong dancing, but suffers from a lack of structure. Brown uses a mix of music, from Duke Ellington to Radiohead, and Mia McSwain's blue-and-white costumes set the dancers up as individuals, but their roles could be more distinctive.
In Robert Battle's In/Side Samuel Lee Roberts struggles to a Nina Simone song. He spins until he falls, pulls himself up, collapsing and tearing himself into new steps. Roberts is taut and powerful, but his struggle remains generic.
Revelations delivers both structure and individuality. Ailey's greatest hit is a setting of spirituals, drawing on his own childhood memories. With this material, the Ailey dancers are suddenly more personal and more focused. In "Fix Me, Jesus", Linda Celeste Sims stretches one leg up, then arches away from it into a backbend. The power of her torso is expressive. You can see her muscles holding her steady against the pull of gravity; she's a soul straining upwards, as the earth drags her back.
To 25 September (0844 412 4300). Touring to 23 October (Danceconsortium.com)
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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