Alvin Ailey Programme A: Lazarus and Revelations at Sadler’s Wells
Founded in 1958 by influential director, choreographer and activist Alvin Ailey – who sought to uphold the uniqueness of the African-American experience through modern dance – tonight’s company showcase a dizzying spectacle of varying dance forms from contemporary and jazz, to West African and hip-hop.
Influenced by the life of Ailey, who grew up in a segregated Texas, choreographer Rennie Harris’s Lazarus begins with a man gasping for air while another dancer supports him. Three more male performers emerge with bent backs as the beating of a heart resonates, everyone shrouded in semi-darkness. The music and sound by Darrin Ross reflect the period, evoking a sombre tone and imagery of workers on plantations through segregated America with dancers running, attempting to escape their captors. We see a man pulled – his face twisted anxiously while creeping piano notes play – and another dancer placing an invisible bag and noose around him, evoking the lynchings that were common at the time. Gospel music filters in and out, amidst which Ailey’s voice drifts as he is interviewed, reflecting on his experiences and the extreme hardships he faced.
The tone of the piece changes drastically through hip-hop dance routines, interspersed with dark reminders of the past, while fast fancy footwork by the company enthrals, synchronicity fundamentally holding the pieces together. Harris’s arrangements explore Ailey’s life without being pedantic, showcasing the best of the company’s abilities. A remixed rendition of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good and Michael Kiwanuka’s Black Man in a White World works well, while the performers take turns presenting individual sequences. The second section of Lazarus sees the tone shift again with upbeat music and sequences, evoking carnivals and modern Black experiences, conveying the different eras and cultural influence.
Revelations (Ailey’s choreography) has been viewed by more people than any other contemporary body of work and continues to pay homage to its religious undertones, with an array of varied pieces detailing the dancers’ talents. Standing with outstretched arms and legs flexed laterally, the troupe are accompanied by songs about deliverance and prophets from Abrahamic religions. In Fix Me, Jesus Michael Jackson, Jr and Akua Noni Parker form the most exquisite of shapes, while Clifton Brown conveys the complex emotions and existentialism in I Wanna Be Ready. The company then come together, the females with large hats on their heads, fanning themselves and dancing on stools, followed by their male counterparts, resembling the church gospel choir scenes that Ailey grew up with, the show finishing in a visually spectacular finale.
Sadler’s Wells is known for presenting a high calibre of artists, and tonight’s show is no different. The company breathe life into the pieces, leaving audiences reflective at first and with a beaming life-affirming smile at the end.
Photos: Paul Kolnik
Alvin Ailey Programme A: Lazarus and Revelations is at Sadler’s Wells from 4th September until 14th September 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.