Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater are a world-renowned dance company returning to the UK for the first time in five years, so it is unsurprising that the evening was full of excitement and anticipation, and not without good reason. The fantastic blend of styles in the choreography, punctuated by the talent and sheer physical power of the dancers, conveyed the complex identity of the American people with great impact, resulting in a formidable and thought-provoking show that was both a visual delight and a testament to dance as an art form.
The show was divided into four dances, each with its own narrative and dance style that allowed the dancers to showcase their vast and varied abilities. Although the episodic structure of the show was good as it ensured that there was something for everyone, it did affect the impression of the show as a whole, as it created a jarring effect between dances that compromised the overall cathartic experience for the audience.
This disjointed feeling was highlighted by the first dance, ‘Exodus’, which explored an energetic break away from ignorance and societal convention through hip hop and fusion dance. This dance was set to a variety of music, including gospel, house and even spoken word poetry, which didn’t closely relate to the movements onstage, thus creating an impression of disconnection.
The highlight of the show was definitely the final dance: ‘Revelations’, whose strong religious undertones and seamless transitions through different musical and dance styles reflect the complex, layered nature of American identity, informed by cultures from all over the world. Described as a “cultural treasure” and “transcendent experience” by the company, the sheer power and intense emotion of this dance couldn’t help but entrance the audience, making the half-hour of choreography fly by in what seemed a matter of seconds.
The dance contrasted with the fragmented structure of the overall show by blending the different aspects of American identity represented together, with only changes in music and costume indicating transitions. The experience was thoroughly immersive and transporting, pulling the audience into the melting pot of American identity.
The chance to discuss the production with members of the dance company during the two intervals was particularly special – the opportunity to see the other side of the show highlighted the personal, subjective nature of dance and art as a whole, as each dancer had their own interpretation of the meaning behind the choreography. This was comforting as it demonstrated the all-encompassing nature of dance, which allows it to connect to and provide a cathartic, connected experience for so many people, unifying them in their emotion.