Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received complimentary admission to this performance by Alvin Ailey Amerian Dance Theater to write an open and honest dance show review of Lazarus and Revelations.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is based is New York City, but the company regularly visits Sadlers’ Wells in London. They have returned for another long run this autumn with three separate programmes, the first of which pairs Rennie Harris’ Lazarus with Alvin Ailey’s magnum opus, Revelations. Programmes A, B and C will be running on distinct dates from 4 – 14 September. (In addition to the UK premiere on 4 September, Programme A will also show on September 6, 7, 8, 12, and 14.)

Photo credit: Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) celebrates their 60th anniversary on their 2019 – 2020 tour. Since the company’s first performance in 1958, they have been led by Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamison and Robert Battle. AAADT performs annually across the nation at venues, such as the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, but the dance troupe has also been declared a “Cultural Ambassador to the World” in a US Congressional resolution during 2008. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater “celebrates the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience and the preservation and enrichment of the American modern dance heritage,” according to the company website.

Rennie Harris: ‘Lazarus’ Review

Rennie (Lorenzo) Harris brings Lazarus to stage, a two-act ballet set to music by Nina Simone, Darrin Ross and Terence Trent D’Arby, amongst others.  The programme states hip-hop choreographer Harris “connects past and present in a powerful work that addresses the racial inequities America faced when Ailey founded this company in 1958 and still faces today.”

Photo credit: Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey: Lazarus Act I

Lazarus (2018) is loosely based on Ailey’s life and experiences. It’s not a biographical piece, but it references his experiences as a black person in the USA and includes his voice in the audio track.

The fragmented first act opens as a man embraces another man from behind, supporting the weight of his injured comrade. Dissonant notes pierce the silence, followed by labored breathing. Throughout we see the performers in everyday clothes (albeit from the past) carrying their peers’ bodies, which is jarring, when those actions are normally associated with uniformed soldiers at war.  

We see a crowd of people, shielding their faces and shrinking from the spotlight, as they would have when on the run from slavery or hiding from other persecution decades later. The performers crawl forward as a herd in a lurching motion, grieving, in exodus – like an African American version of the tragic Cherokee Trail of Tears – their pain apparent as a wailing woman stands watching over their group.

Harris expertly blends dances of the black diaspora across the ages. A few instances of stomping and spinal articulations reference indigenous West African dance, while more laid-back footwork set the casual tone for tap dance. Elements of jazz, breaking and krump also pop up throughout the piece.

Photo credit: Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey: Lazarus Act II

The second act of Lazarus moves through the trauma of the first act, as the performers dance in unison. The group synergy remains, even as individuals calmly raise their hands to the sky, as if to say, “I’m still here.”

Harris varies the rhythm of the footwork, tossing in pas de bourrées (that are now as standard in house dance as in ballet) and adding soaring asymmetrical jumps that wouldn’t be out of place on Broadway. Although all of the dancers display their own unique style, some parts lose the soul of the dance. Occasionally the connection with Ailey and the black experience is less obvious, as if the dance were performed by a generic group of Zumba instructors, instead.

However, the integrity of the piece is restored during the closing section, as the soundtrack circles back to Ailey’s voice recording. He speaks about showing respect to earn respect and how unified they can stop others from killing black people –sobering and hopeful, in equal measure.

Photo credit: Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey: ‘Revelations’ Review

Alvin Ailey American Dance Company shows regularly close with their iconic piece, Revelations (1960). (So, whichever programme you choose during their London run, you will be able to see AAADT perform their signature piece.) Ailey’s Revelations incorporates traditional African-American spirituals, which blatantly express emotions from grief to exaltation. The 36-minute, three-part dance has become synonymous with AAADT, performed across the United States – and the globe.

“Choreographed when [Alvin Ailey] was just 29 years old, ‘Revelations‘ is … [a] classic tribute to the resolve and determination of a people… seen by more people around the world than any other modern work.”

– Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Photo credit: Nan Melville

Ailey’s Revelations has repeatedly been labeled and masterpiece – and there are so many beautiful moments throughout each of the sections. The first segment sees dancers bending their knees in deep plié and stretching their arms and torsos in unison, before the movement ripples outward as they burst from the flock formation. It closes with a gorgeous pas de deux between a man and a woman to “Fix Me, Jesus,” during which he supports her and raises her up.

Based on water baptism, the lively second part begins with a trio of dancers clad in white, moving in front of two blue rippling sheets. A female performer leads a couple in the undulating choreography, outfitted with an umbrella, like a spiritual Mary Poppins with Caribbean roots. The celebration is followed by a subtle, solemn solo (by Clifton Brown), but soon returns during the final scene.

The Ailey men (Jeroboam Bozeman, Soloman Dumas and Chalvar Monteiro) impress with their athleticism during “Sinner Man”, leaning into lateral Ts, spinning and leaping with a passion; but a majority of the finale features the entire flamboyant cast. The dance and the encore are reminiscent of a chorus line, with classic jazz choreography and emphatic gestures, like merrily shrugging shoulders; but their joy is infectious.

Star Rating:

Photo credit: Pierre Wachholder

If You Go to See AAADT at Sadler’s Wells:

Programme A: Lazarus Act I / Lazarus Act II / Revelations
Dates: September: 4, 6, 7, 8, 12, 14

Programme B: EN / The Call / Juba / Revelations 
Dates: September: 5, 7, 8, 11, 13

Programme C: Ounce of Faith / Members Don’t Get Weary / Ella / Revelations 
Dates: September: 10, 12, 14

Please see the venue’s What’s On page for show times, as some performances are matinées, while others run in the evening.

Price: £15 – £75

Theatre: Sadler’s Wells

Address: Rosebery Ave, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4TN

Nearest tube/ train station(s): Angel, but walkable from Barbican and Farringdon

Ticket office phone number: +44 2078 638000

All information accurate up-to-date at time of posting.

Photo credit: Christopher Duggan

Where in the world have you seen Alvin Ailey’s Lazarus or Revelations? Or which pieces did you find most intriguing? Tell us about your experiences in the comments field below.

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