dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Dance full of soul returns to Birmingham
When Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs in Birmingham, audiences can expect to see the company's signature work Revelations. Created by company founder Alvin Ailey in 1960 the work, based on a series of African American spirituals, has been performed across the globe over the past 50 years.
Exploring the grief but also the joy of the African American experience, Revelations features a series of songs including Wade in the Water, Rocka my Soul and Bosom of Abraham. And AAADT's artistic director Robert Battle says it never fails to evoke an emotional response from the audience.
He says: "Revelations is Alvin Ailey's masterpiece. It expresses the experience of African Americans through the prism of modern dance. It looks at the role of spirituality of the black church – these spirituals weren't always just about celebrating faith, it was sometimes coded language about their life experience. But what is interesting is that Alvin Ailey was making a personal statement and yet it proved to be universal, which is why it's a masterpiece. No matter where we are, whether you've experienced it, the roots of it in terms of the tenacity of hope is really what grabs people."
The company usually ends all of its programmes with Revelations – but not always.
Rebert explains: "People demand it which is why we usually perform it. But sometimes we don't. Sometimes we go somewhere and the presenter will say they want a programme without it. Now that presenter, I don't know what happens to them, but I certainly hear about it if we don't perform it from audience members who wanted it. They'll tell me they brought maybe their niece or their daughter to see the show and wanted them to see Revelations – it's a rite of passage for some people. It is something that goes beyond just seeing a dance concert, it has become a part of the fabric. It's become tradition that you see it. And it's wonderful that we have a piece like that which is able to cut across all sorts of would-be barriers and has a universal touch. And that people still clamour to see it. I think today it is more important than ever that we see Revelations and that we share this message of hope." At Birmingham Hippodrome the company will also be performing a range of other pieces with a different programme on each night, September 23 and 24.
Robert says: "This programme really pulls out the versatility of the dancers. So one of the pieces we have is called Exodus and it's by hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris. So right out at the gate you are struck by something perhaps you didn't expect to see – our dancers doing hip-hop. Then we've got Four Corners by Ronald K Brown who has done several works with the company. His work is a wonderful blend of West African dance with concert dance. It's a beautiful spiritual work. Then, just when the audience think they get what we do, we come back after the interval with a different work, After the Rain Pas de Deux which is created by Christopher Wheeldon who is known as a contemporary ballet choreographer. It's to the music of Arvo Part and it's almost minimalist but quite a beautiful love duet. It's both sensuous but also austere – it surprises people to see us slip into ballet."
And he adds: "The works in the other programme include Open Door which is also by Ron Brown. He has been doing a lot of work in Cuba and working with Cuban dancers and this piece is a tribute to the work he's been doing there. The music is Arturo O'Farrill and the movement is that Afro-Cuban mixture of movement. With this work Ron Brown is letting his hair down and having fun. There are relationships and it's really about people coming together and enjoying themselves."
The final work in the programme is Paul Taylor's Piazzolla Caldera set to music by 20th century tango composers Astor Piazzolla and Jerzy Peterburshsky.
Robert explains: "Piazzolla Caldera is a dark and sexy work based on the tango. You have a sense of the battle of the sexes and combative relationships. There are different characters, and one specific character is this lonely woman and the only way she can communicate is through her sexuality and there is a sense of real isolation about her. What I love about this work is that it takes you on an unexpected journey through the inner landscape of why these people all come together in whichever place they are, be it a club or somewhere else – they are all trying to find validation or love. It's a different flavour for the company."
But there remain common themes across all the works – not least a sense of connection between people which has been a driving force of the company since it was founded by Ailey in 1958. Robert concludes: "Alvin Ailey's spirit was one of curiosity and generosity and that is what is prevalent in our work. The company always circles back to Alvin Ailey and one of the things which has remained as a life force for the company is his sense of accessibility. We have a real sense of purpose. I can't imagine that you could dance Revelations without connecting to that thing - the very nature of the company. Whatever work I bring into the repertory, the face of the company always shines through. It's a passion, an accessibility, a soulfulness. It's that thing called soul."