When Ailey started his company, in 1958, he wanted to express black identity. This is a mixed-race ensemble, and the repertory is eclectic, but the Ailey is still America's flagship black company. The dancers are sleek, but they need better choreography. In Ailey's lifetime, the company had trouble finding a work that could match the sensational Revelations. Under the artistic director Judith Jamison, they're still looking.
Jamison is one of three choreographers who had a hand in Love Stories, danced to music by Stevie Wonder. The others are Robert Battle and the hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris. The programme doesn't say who did what, but the section in sneakers must be Harris - fast, stomping footwork; swivelling hips.
The rest of Love Stories is diffuse and pious. It starts with a Glenn Allen Sims strutting and turn. He whisks into position with crisp attack, but the steps are stolidly muscle-bound. Sims is joined by other dancers wearing strikingly nasty practice clothes. A feelgood quote from Ailey is projected on to the backdrop, and the dancers whoop and cheer each other on. This is life in the company: one happy family, with no rivalry and no rigour. At last the dancers change into bulky uniforms and stamp, bow, stare off-stage with a look of collective alarm.
Ulysses Dove's Vespers is a dance for six women and a great many chairs. Two women crouch around the first chair, pointing, sitting, slipping to the floor. Dove builds up mechanical repetitions, bringing on more chairs and more women. The steps are full of Martha Graham contractions - done in slow motion, so you admire the muscle tone rather than seeing its convulsive force. Hans van Manen's Solo is a trio. Three men scamper and shrug through a Bach solo violin piece. There's a lot of cutesy emphasis. Revelations still gives the company its identity. The piece builds and builds, the dances getting more individual and forceful as the work moves on.
In the baptism scene, the women come shimmying forward. One dips, spins and runs flat out, shaking a parasol. In "Sinner Man", three men run and whirl in terror of judgement. The last scene starts with women in their Sunday best, fanning themselves and gossiping. The dancers overdo the chatter, pulling exaggerated faces. But the finale, to "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham", is dynamic. The whole company stamp and swing, dancing full out.
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