Vibrant, emotional and finally brilliant
A night of mixed emotions, moving from the depths of despair to the heights of unbridled joy, was the gift of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on its return short visit to the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.
The company, founded by Ailey 56 years ago, offered an enthusiastic audience at Cardiff’s premier entertainment venue a programme of four pieces which – true to the vision of the founder combined elements of African traditional dance with classical ballet and hip hop.
These were no Strictly style amateurs strutting their stuff nervously, but a group of seasoned pros. Alvin Ailey’s troupe of dancers performed to the highest level, combining mesmerising and beautiful movement with an athleticism and energy which soon had watchers in the auditorium whistling and calling for more.
For the opening dance Four Corners choreographed by Ronal K Brown, eleven members of the company rhythmically takes over a dark stage in hues of dark blues and purples. You could almost be amongst the cotton workers of America’s deep south. They are seeking spiritual help from the four angels, holding the winds, on the four corners of the earth.
The work combines effectively West African and modern dance influences and half way though there is a palpable change in the music and mood of the pulsating work, signifying for me the seekers finding their ultimate goal – peace.
In the second dance, Exodus, which premiered in 2015, the dance theatre moves bang up to date with a work vibrant with hip-hop. But Rennie Harris’s composition is not just a Britain’s Got Talent-style gimmicky street dance. It combines explosive and joyful movement to a background of gospel and house music and poetry.
And with clever use of colourful costume change to an encompassing all white for the entire group the Exodus appears to experience an enlightenment and a new spirituality. Certainly, the audience at Wales Millennium Centre’s wild applause for the piece seemed to show such a connection.
Post interval the company returns with a change in mood and more than a nod to the aesthetic of classical ballet and Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain Pas de Deux. And almost like after a refreshing rainfall, the crowd seems to welcome everything the company is offering anew.
After The Rain, Christopher Wheeldon. Pic, Paul Kolnik
The duet, by Jacqueline Green and Yannick Lebrun, set to the haunting music Spiegel im Spiegel by Estonian composer Arvo Parts pares back the energy of the previous dance. The choreography of the Royal Ballet school trained Wheeldon provides a spellbinding intricate partnering and an intimacy between the two protaganists.
It’s a welcome serene interlude before the company returns one more time. And what a finale Revelations – first performed in New York in January 1960 – is.
Revelations. Alvin Ailey
Rousing spirituals and blues music provide the backdrop for the signature work of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater which encapsulates the story of African-American faith and its strength in moving from slavery to freedom through a suite of dances.
Of course, it’s a well-known and well-told story but in Ailey’s work, the emancipation story becomes one of personal suffering in the duet Fix Me Jesus to one of triumphant community in Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.
Here the company in yellow costumes with stools and fans make up a church congregation and under a vibrant sun unite in complex dance steps, seemingly embodying the joy of their faith and perseverance.
The piece had the audience clamouring for more but after a short encore the dancers were gone, and onto their next touring date.
Final dates of the UK tour: Friday 7 and Saturday 8 October – The Lowry, Salford; Tues 11 and Wed 12 October – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton; Fri 14 and Sat 15 October – The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; Tues 18 and Wed 19 October – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.