The company has three As in its title but, to my mind, this programme sets the case for it to have four, because the profundity of the African American cause is so central to this fine pair of works that it certainly seems in the hinterland of being culturally inappropriate for me – a white Englishman – to comment on the content or the narrative.
I can see the references to pain, anguish and isolation in Lazarus (notably in the first act) and I can understand the thematic restorative, uplifting power of dance – emphasised through the titular reference to the biblical event; but, I am never going to feel it through the ‘blood memory' that links the majority of these dancers and this audience to that past. It strikes me that the essence of AAADT is absorbed into that concept of ‘blood memory'. – GRAHAM WATTS, Bachtrack
* * *
Following its recent 60th anniversary, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater brought its 32 extraordinary dancers to Sadler's Wells, presenting a series of new works alongside modern classics in three mixed programmes from Wednesday 4- Saturday 14 September 2019.
Inspired by the life and legacy of the company's founder, Rennie Harris' Lazarus uses street dance language set to an eclectic score that encompasses Nina Simone, original music and the voice of Ailey himself. This UK premiere is the first two-act ballet in Ailey's history, and was part of the first of the company's three programmes for Sadler's Wells.
Rennie Harris' Lazarus
Lazarus, a two-parter by Rennie Harris that pays homage to Ailey's life and early struggles, is a darkly impressionistic re-tread of the black history theme, minus the religious uplift…
This is dark, very dark. It takes a bewildering 10 minutes to realise that what you've seen and heard so far on a near-black stage are impressions formed in utero by the as-yet-unborn Alvin. Scenes of mental and physical distress, pleading, prayers, snatches of what Ailey called blood memory. His was a childhood blighted by poverty and racist brutality and he suffered all his life from survivor guilt. – JENNY GILBERT, The Arts Desk
From left: Courtney Celeste Spears, Clifton Brown, Constance Stamatiou, Solomon Dumas, Miranda Quinn, Jermaine Terry, Corrin Rachelle Mitchell, Renaldo Maurice, Samantha Figgins, Patrick Coker, Yazzmeen Laidler, Chalvar Monteiro, Khalia Campbell, Christopher R Wilson, Danica Paulos.
Lazarus, from the hip hop choreographer Rennie Harris, is an intense exploration of the African American experience, its suffering, toils, and indomitable spirit; and it's an homage to Alvin Ailey himself.
It's a dark, multi-layered work, and it's deeply introspective, which is simultaneously a strength and a weakness. The soundtrack blends music, and a variety of noises, from dogs barking through traffic and industrial grinding, occasionally overlaid with male voices, one of which is Alvin Ailey's.
The voices are often indistinct, which is aggravating as you sense that there is much meaning to be derived from those fragments; the ones you get, such as Ailey's reference to ‘blood memories,' hit hard. – TERESA GUERREIRO, Culture Whisper
Harris's vernacular choreography for the ensemble is burdened with the weight of despair, and some of its images (of protest and prayer, of lynching and hard labour) are striking and emotive. But its attempt to make a profound statement through dance (there's also voiceover text to make a point) doesn't work. There is a lone figure at the heart of Lazarus (is he Ailey or a direct biblical reference?), but his place in the scheme of things isn't clear.
It's only when pure dance — which changed Ailey's life — takes centre stage that Harris's terrific flair as a choreographer kicks in. The beat picks up — it's catchy, irresistible — and suddenly the dancers are on fire, delivering incredibly intricate footwork at the speed of light while making it all look so casual and easygoing. It's very exciting. – DEBRA CRAINE, The Times
It looks glorious, helped by Mark Eric's costume designs and James Clotfelter's lighting. The dancing is wonderful – assured, skilful, incredibly fast; the second act is a showcase of that talent. Lazarus appears to have risen, and his ascent is a cause for celebratory hip-hop. Not everything is as clear as this summary makes it seem, but there is no doubt of the work's ambition; I rather loved it. – SARAH CROMPTON, The Guardian
Needless to say, the impossibly ripped, glamorous and musical AAADT dancers make it look skin-pricklingly exciting, even if, just when you think the piece is going to end on a “look how far we've come” high note, sombreness suddenly creeps in. There is, of course, still a long way to go. – MARK MONAHAN, The Telegraph
Jessica Lang's EN
Prolific Jessica Lang's 100th ballet is called EN, and explores fate, destiny and the metaphor of the circle.
EN, choreographer Jessica Lang's first piece for AAADT, is inspired by Japanese culture and set for the most part to the pulsating thud of big Japanese drums. A large disc sits at the back of the stage, and the whole ballet reflects on fate and the circularity of life.
Thirteen white-clad dancers swirl in perpetual motion, occasionally coalescing into lines, which suggest unbroken continuity and thus become a subtle leitmotif. EN makes the most of the dancers' physicality; and as the drums are joined by insistent strings, together they bring the work to a glorious apotheosis. – TERESA GUERREIRO, Culture Whisper
From left: Daniel Harder, Ghrai DeVore-Stokes, Chalvar Monteiro, Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Kanji Segawa, Jacquelin Harris, Matthew Rushing, Akua Noni Parker, Jermaine Terry, Jacqueline Green, Jeroboam Bozeman, Belén Pereyra-Alem, Renaldo Maurice
Elegant dancers swirled across the stage in varying choreographic patterns (circles being a common theme) with the most notable, a moving line of a human chain stretching out diagonally, performers fluidly connected to each other by touching or holding different parts of the next body while in diverse positions. It was movement with an arresting sculptural quality. A quiet, soulful section dominated by the compelling presence of Jacqueline Green was another highlight. – GRAHAM WATTS, Backtrack
EN, choreographed by Jessica Lang and first performed in New York last year, is elegant enough. The beginning is something like a sun dance to a soundtrack of war drums and clicking, trilling typewriter ribbons. In their ivory outfits (shame about the putty gym knickers), the 13 dancers are played upon like piano keys. As they are struck and released it is as if God's hand were practising chords. There is something mechanical, almost steampunk, to the choreography: legs tick like minute hands, female dancers spin like mobiles from their partner's arms, each cog fits the next in the sequence. The climax sees the dancers turn the stage into something between a maypole and a mandala. – LAURA FREEMAN, The Spectator
Jessica Lang's EN has a lovely set, with a small suspended moon, a large eclipsed sun and some orbiting and rotating from the white-clad dancers. It's celestial but not heavenly. – LYNDSEY WINSHIP, The Guardian
First up is Jessica Lang's atmospheric 2018 ensemble work EN, set to a soundscape of portentous drum rolls, tick-tocks and clockwork cranking. The title refers to the Japanese word for circularity and karma (among other meanings) and there's an intriguingly fateful certainty to the way each dancer propels themselves through streams of tight turns and the sheer, semaphoring lines of their limbs.
If the score gets a little plodding, a resonant sense of unpredictability still emerges, with individual figures giving way to explosive surges of energy and corrugated shapes, as if dancing on the recalcitrant current of life. – ANNA WINTER, The Stage
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.