...which includes me, as I've seen the company exactly twice, on its last visit to
London in 1992. Before that, their last London season was in the early 1970s, so
I guess there are lots of others in the same boat. ( People who live in Bradford
have been luckier.)
(This is a repost of what I wrote before the company's cancelled visit last September.)
Who was Alvin Ailey?
He was an American dancer and choreographer, born in 1931. He trained with
some of the greats of modern dance - Lester Horton, Martha Graham, Charles
Weidman - and danced in Lester Horton's company, taking over the direction
after Horton's death. He formed his own company in 1958 and directed it and
choreographed for it until his death in 1989. (His Night Creature was in ENB's
repertoire for a time.)
So who runs the company now?
Judith Jamison, who joined the company in 1965 and rose to become one of its
leading dancers. Ailey made one of his most famous solos, Cry, for her. She
now does her own choreography as well as directing, and the Sadler's Wells
season includes her Divining.
What's special about the company?
It's a predominantly, but not exclusively, black company - Ailey wanted to
celebrate black culture, but as a part of American multicultural richness. (Its full
name is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.) It was the first modern
repertory company in the USA, bringing in outside choreographers to work
alongside Ailey. The style is a mixture of modern dance with elements of
classical ballet and jazz dancing - strongly technical, but also using the dancers'
personalities to the full. There's an Alvin Ailey school , and a 'junior' company,
and this year they've announced plans for a new building in New York which
will be the largest dance complex in the States.
And what about the repertoire?
Ailey's Pas de Duke is described as 'a modern dance translation of a classical
pas de deux' - a show-off piece; the 'Duke' is Ellington. More Ellington, with
African and hip-hop trimmings, in Ronald K Brown's Grace; and Alonzo King's
'Following the subtle current upstream' promises dizzying action to East Indian
rhythms. Jamison's Divining is an abstract piece set to African and Latin music,
and Ulysses Dove's Bad Blood is a 'war between the sexes' piece - you may
have seen or read about his Red Angels for NYCB recently.
And then there's Revelations. When Dance Magazine ran a Millennium poll to
select the greatest dance work of the twentieth century, it was this Ailey
masterpiece from 1960 that won - partly, perhaps, because it's been seen by so
many people: the company uses it to end the programme almost every night.
But also because it's one of the most moving, exhilarating pieces you'll ever see
in a dance show. Set to spirituals and gospel songs, it's rooted in the black
American tradition, but its appeal is universal. There are wonderful numbers like
'I've been 'buked', 'Fix me, Jesus, fix me', and 'Sinner man' (if you've any attention
to spare during this, imagine what it was like when it was new, and Ailey did the
whole number himself as a solo!) - but it's the finale that gets the audience on its
feet. When the first words start - 'The day is past' - I bet you could look at the
audience and tell with 100% accuracy who's seen it before - they'll all be smiling
in anticipation. If you've never seen it before - never Rocked your Soul in the Bosom of Abraham - oh, lucky, lucky you: as Mary Clarke once said, "Revelations can never be quite as wonderful as it was the
first time you saw Revelations".
So I should go, then?
Yes, yes! But hurry up - the cancelled visit last September was sold out, and many people just transferred their booking to June. I'd guarantee that by the end of their week there won't be a ticket to be had.
There's an Alvin Ailey page, with links to reviews, interviews etc, at