‘Alvin Ailey said that one of America’s richest treasures was the cultural heritage of the African-American; sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful.’
This highlights perfectly the themes dealt with in the extraordinary compositions led by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. The world-renowned dance company, born in the late 1950’s, tackles relevant issues that African-American communities have been going through for decades and up to this present day.
The two-hour performance, broken by two intervals and one short pause, is an excellent way for any art enthusiast to experience modern American dance culture.
Ailey’s work, which is said to have ‘changed forever the perception of American dance’, has received multiple awards and has been enjoyed by individuals all over the world. It is impressive that today still, the company implements Ailey’s idea of the preciousness of African heritage in its modern creations.
”It is clear that Rennie Harris has wanted the theme of pain to be ubiquitous in this scene and for our emotional states to be solicited’’
The audience is captivated instantly by the sound of a gunshot, along with sudden panicked movements of fifteen dancers lying down on the stage in the first few seconds of Exodus. The atmosphere is cold, with not a sound in the theatre apart from the poetic narrated voice-over backed with distressing sounds.
It is clear that Rennie Harris has wanted the theme of pain to be ubiquitous in this scene, and for our emotional states to be solicited. The dancers’ firm and pained gazes turn towards us and slow, precise gestures expose an atmosphere of agony, and a desperate pursuit of spirituality.
”The mood lightens up nonetheless and hope is restored’’
As the performance moves on, the musical rhythm picks up and it seems that the actions of the artists are generated on the pace of a heartbeat. All dressed in stylish white costumes designed by Jon Taylor, they wander around the stage flowing organically, now seeming like they have found and are praising a supernatural being.
After a while, their eager feet begin to pick up the pace faster and faster reminding us of 1950’s swing, their gaze remaining solemn throughout. The mood lightens up nonetheless and hope is restored. The choreography concluded with another powerful ‘bang’.
The final section’s ten compositions have entirely been choreographed by Alvin Ailey himself and are performed wonderfully on a traditional religious melodies soundtrack, sung by impressively soulful voices. This is when one can most appreciate and understand the artist’s work.
In ‘The Day has Passed and Gone’, the audience is presented with eight elegant women, smiling, dressed in beautiful bright yellow costumes designed by Barbara Forbes. The mise en scène, with a projection of the large orange sun in the background, instantly sets a seize the day mood in this new section.
The women wave around their pretty fans at each other amusingly. They seem to be waving away some silly negativity from the past as the song ‘Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham’ plays.
The female dancers continue to raise the spirits of the audience, by dancing jovially with props: stools, parasols, flags, they project a wave of said joy across the awestruck audience, amplified by the ‘holy blues’ music, and the joining of the men to the stage.
”The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s remarkable and engaged creation proves to us, once again, that the Arts can be used as a tool to voice the silenced taboos that exist today all over the world’’
Above all, the genius of Ailey is evident in the creation of a solid contrast between a sombre tone in the first performance and a much livelier tone in the final one.
The company’s clever artists use a variety of music styles including hip-hop, house music, gospel, poetic narration, all whilst tackling the same issues of African American history throughout the evening.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s remarkable and engaged creation proves to us, once again, that the Arts can be used as a tool to voice the silenced taboos that exist today all over the world.
Ingrid de Rauglaudre
Image Courtesy of the Theatre Royal
‘The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’ is running at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham until Saturday 1st October. For more information and to book tickets, see here