On Tuesday evening I left behind the feeble comforts of an Argos desk fan and braved the hellish humidity of the 38 bus to Sadler’s (no openable windows – thanks Boris, you absolute twat) to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It turns out that you don’t really need air conditioning when you’re watching the Ailey because these dancers are spine-tinglingly, arm hair-raisingly excellent.
The cherished cornerstone of the company is Ailey’s 1960 work Revelations, a piece performed at the close of almost every show. Inspired by Ailey’s memories of his Texas childhood and set to an awe-inspiring gospel score, Revelations charts aspects of the African-American spiritual experience. Any concerns I had about it looking a tad dated were quelled – it’s a work of enduring and immediate power. There’s a profound yearning in the physical rise and fall of the Fix Me Jesus duet and when Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims extend their limbs heavenward (demonstrating the famous Ailey ‘Lateral T’ position) it’s a truly stunning sight to behold.
Elsewhere, in Sinner Man, a palpable sense of harried guilt propels three of the men into multiple turns and all-out leaps at breakneck, breathtaking speed. And then, of course, there’s the fan-fluttering wit and ebullience of You Can Run On and the ensemble ending, after which the ecstatic audience demanded an encore, and rightfully so. Collective sorrow and joy also permeate the evening’s opening work, Rennie Harris’ Exodus. To a house music re-working of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, punctuated by a gunshot, the dancers modulate from slow-motion contortions of grief into immaculately timed, fleet-footed hip hop. Both elegance and earthiness characterise Ronald K Brown’s Four Corners, which blends modern Graham-esque movement with the articulated hips and ripples of African dance.
Then there’s Christopher Wheeldon’s elegiac After The Rain pas de deux, set to Arvo PÃ¤rt’s Spiegel im Spiegel. It’s danced with radiant confidence and subtle musicality by Akua Noni Parker and Jamar Roberts. Both bring a sensuous intensity to Wheeldon’s neoclassicism, with its lingering lifts and moments of tenderness like the brief stroke of a cheek, that give way to startling, melting contortions.
Now, after all this exaltation, it’s back to the business of kvetching about my heat intolerance.