Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
4 – 15 September, 2007
by John Percival
copyright 2007 by John Percival
At least you saw some good dancing, was one friend's comment when I moaned about the London season of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, but I don't think it was half as good as it should have been. There were three programmes spread over two weeks at Sadler's Wells, after which two of the shows toured to seven regional theatres. Several of our present reviewers did not like some of the works given, but praised the performers. However, remembering how these ballets were danced years ago, I'd say the opposite, namely that although most of the company can do steps well enough, they don't get the feeling or the depth. And sadly that's true of quite a few companies nowadays.
The best performed ballet all season, in my view, was Twyla Tharp's “The Golden Section”. Six women and seven men leapt, spun, twirled, ran, with a lot of energy. Did they catch the real Tharp spirit? Maybe not, but it worked well enough. This was billed as a London premiere for the company, and with it they gave their first ever shot at Maurice Bejart's “Firebird”: a sad disappointment, even though staged by former Bejart principal Shonach Mirk. They advertise it as “an irresistible showcase of the power and beauty” of the dancers, but I thought that Clifton Brown in the title role was going for prettiness rather than beauty, and totally lacked power in comparison with the embattled strength I've admired with other companies. In fact the only convincing interpretation I saw was the phoenix who appears after the firebird has been slain in battle; Jamar Roberts was excellent in that part. It was odd to bill those two bought-in works plus only “Revelations” as the Best of Ailey Programme, and to choose this as the most frequent show on tour.
On opening night, however, a Homage to Alvin Ailey Programme consisted entirely of his choreography and mostly of Duke Ellington music. “The River” was unevenly performed but did feature the company's best dancer, Alicia J. Graf, in the Vortex solo. Tiny Linda Celeste Sims and tall Mathew Rushing made an odd mixture in “Pas de Duke” -- exactly the opposite discrepancy from the pairing it was created for. I think I've seen “Night Creature” better danced elsewhere, on the whole, and the casting of Ailey's most popular ballet, “Revelations”, was less than ideal.
There was another premiere during the week, on a Jazz Programme that was given only in London. The new work, bizarrely called “The Groove to Nobody's Business”, apparently took place on a subway train but the action – if that's not too strong a word – made no more sense than the title. Camille A. Brown, the choreographer, is described as one of Dance Magazine's “25 to Watch”; if her movement is always so jerky, pointless and unmusical I'd rather not watch.
Alicia J. Graf and Jamar Roberts did what could be done with John Butler's “Portrait of Billie” (Holiday), and Billy Wilson's “The Winter in Lisbon” was a group of pushy numbers to music by Dizzy Gillespie. Best work on the programme was Talley Beatty's “Road of the Phoebe Snow” but that again we've seen better done. Is this really, as the programme note claims, “a turbulent and gripping love story”? Didn't look that way.
Apropos programme notes, does Masazumi Chaya really deserve as long a biography as Ailey, and artistic director Judith Jamison more than twice as much? Those of us who saw the company in Ailey's day (he died too young in 1989) know how much better it looked then.
Photo, by Paul Kolnik: Maurice Bejart’s Firebird, Clifton Brown as Firebird and the Alvin Ailey Dancers.