Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London
Wednesday 22 September 2010
How do dance companies survive their founder choreographers? Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, at Sadler's Wells before a UK tour, was created by Ailey, who died in 1989. Directed by Judith Jamison, it's remained one of the world's most successful contemporary companies. Yet it can look bogged down by its need to honour Ailey. This second programme had a cheerful world premiere, but first we had to get through a work of hagiography.
Jamison's Hymn, created in 1993, is a funeral tribute to Ailey. It opens with a spotlight on his empty chair, as his recorded voice lays down his vision. The rest of the piece is a collage of voices, put together by Anna Deavere Smith, of dancer memories and tributes to Ailey and to Jamison herself.
Around these voices, Jamison arranges her dancers in poses of struggle or uplift. A woman struts to match a memory of Jamison looking glamorous in a black dress; the whole company ends in a group hug of solidarity. The dancing is secondary: they're just illustrating. The piece is heavy with piety.
Occasionally, something else pokes through. One recent Ailey dancer admits that Revelations, the company's signature work, doesn't come easily to her. She hadn't had those experiences, hadn't grown up with that kind of faith, so "I have to fake it". Given that Revelations is still the bread and butter of this company, it's a moment of unexpected honesty. The choreography does nothing for it; it's as dutiful as Hymn.
Early in Anointed, the new work by former Ailey dancer Christopher L Huggins, a snatch of sampled speech sounded like "Alvin". Not more tributes? Instead, the piece slips on to livelier beats by Sean Clement and some hypnotic repetition from Moby.
Huggins's dances have a scampering exuberance. Linda Celeste Sims leads a group of women through sassy dances, with prancing steps and flapping wrists. She dances a curling duet with Jamar Roberts, winding her way around him.
Anointed is lively and confident, giving these dancers a chance to move without funereal overtones. They rush through fast-running steps, or swing their hips with gusto. Sims in particular stands out, sleek and bold.
To 25 September (0844 412 4300); then touring (Danceconsortium.com)
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