Alvin Ailey is, I think we can fairly say, one of the most renowned dance institutions in the world. The choreographer, dancer and cultural leader Alvin Ailey founded the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958. Sixteen years later, the second company, Ailey II, was created and is now made up of twelve young and ambitious dancers, bursting with energy, talent and promise.
Before the performance, I watched their class led by artistic director Troy Powell – it was quite an experience. To me, it seems that there is something intangible about Ailey dancers that sets them apart from others in their profession – something in the power of their arms and the incredible curves they make, in the extension and definition of their legs that makes them truly exceptional.
The company class was a full ballet class, from the pliés to the centre work. The dancers arched and bent their backs in the most beautiful ways, leapt into sky-high splits and pirouetted fabulously. Once the ballet class was over, Mr Powell and the rehearsal director Fana Fraser went through the previous show’s notes and worked with the dancers to perfect the details of each piece. I could hardly wait to watch the live performance.
The show opens with ‘Circular’, a modern take on classical and contemporary ballet by Korean choreographer Jae Man Joo. This first piece gives you a complete view of the company’s considerable skills, and is very diverse, each section telling a different story while conveying a full circle of emotions.
A totally different perspective was given when the group came together in the centre of the blacked-out stage, lit only from the shoulders up. The dancers looked almost as though they were swimming in the darkness, their heads and shoulders seeming to be floating disembodied in the space, their arms occasionally appearing from nowhere – the effect was truly magical.
An emotional duet performed by two male dancers reached out and touched us all, in a deeply moving choreography which left tears in many people’s eyes.
Three female dancers, Corrin Rachelle Mitchell, Yazzmeen Laidler and Khalia Campbell, performed their trio from Darrell Grand Moultrie’s ‘Road to One’. The chemistry between the three of them was immediately obvious as they became lost in the music to tell their tale. Their gorgeous long, flowing dresses created magnificent shapes as they twirled and lifted their legs skywards.
In contrast to the sentimental feminine trio, Ailey II’s six male dancers then performed an explosive and powerful pre-hunt ritual, followed by the hunt itself, in a piece choreographed by Robert Battle, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s third artistic director. The intense, loud percussions created a thunderous atmosphere as the men, in their long black skirts, performed a primitive, tribal-like dance. They seemed tireless, the performance a manic chase with a brutal ending.
For me, it was a case of saving the best until last. ‘Something Tangible’, a 2015 production by Ray Mercer, is a dynamic, exciting piece. A perfect fit for the company’s young and athletic dancers, the gorgeous movements seamlessly occupied the music, which was itself brilliant.
Ailey II’s dancers have incredible talent and potential, which could perhaps have been even further exploited in these pieces. The performance was however beautiful, and the whole evening a true roller-coaster of emotions.