Saturday, 8 October 2016

Alvin Ailey in Salford

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Mixed Bill, The Lowry, 7 Oct 2016

I went to the Lowry last night to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre for a second time. It was a slightly longer programme than the one in Bradford before a considerably larger and even more enthusiastic crowd. I took advantage of the opportunity to get to know the company a little better by attending a rehearsal before the show and a question and answer session afterwards. I enjoyed the evening more than last time.

The programme in Salford consisted of Aszure Barton's LiftRonald K. Brown's Four Corners and Cry and Revelations by Alvin Ailey. The piece we saw in the rehearsal was Brown's Four Corners. I entered the auditorium after the Q & A had begun so missed the introductions but I believe I recognized Sarah Daley on the panel from her After the Rain Pas de Deux which had been my personal highlight of the Bradford show.

Lift began and ended with the dancers jumping in unison in the spotlight. It included solos and a very interesting duet as well as group dances, The music by Curtis Macdonald  was percussive and even slightly mesmeric. The lighting by Burke Brown was understated which made it difficult to appreciate Fritz Masten's costumes, This was the first time I had seen work by Barton who is described on the company's website as an "in-demand choreographer" and "a much sought-after dance maker whose choreography ranges from Baryshnikov to Broadway." It was energetic and in some respects exuberant which was a good way to start the show. I would like to see it again, particularly the duet where the female's face seemed to be attached to the male dancer's chest to some very curious music. I thought of asking a question about it in the Q & A but could not think of an appropriate way to frame such a question without sounding like a chump.

Four Corners is described as 11 dancers depicting spiritual seekers amid 4 angels standing on the corners of the earth, holding the 4 winds.  The work was set to music by Carl Hancock Rux, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Yacoub and is said to have been inspired by the following words from Rux's Lamentations:
"Away they fall
All who stand
At the four corners of the earth
With blades and sheaths
Yours is simply this
Command and stand up
You are beautiful
And lovely
Beautiful and lovely"
I have searched in vein for information about Yacob who is described as a "North African vocalist". His song changed the mood of the ballet quite suddenly. I also seemed to recognize some bars of Hey Jude in the score and there seemed to be some West African influences in the costumes. An eclectic but nonetheless coherent piece.

My favourite work of the evening was Alvin Ailey's Cry which was a solo danced enchantingly by Rachael McLaren. Ailey dedicated this work to "all black women everywhere--especially our mothers."  Having lost in August my own mother in law (who was Sierra Leonean) a few months before her 97th birthday this piece spoke to me in a way that no other work possibly can. A lot of other very dear people came to mind including my late spouse Iyamide and our daughter manquee Dunni who is herself a mother. Set to Alice Coltrane's "Something about John Coltrane," Laura Nyro's "Been on a Train," The Voices of East Harlem "Right on. Be Free" with McLaren in a "long white robe" I was close to tears when the curtain fell.

I was grateful of a few minutes of silence to compose myself before the whole company belted out Ailey's Revelations. The long white robe to which I referred just now were a quotation from the song "I want to be Ready" which was danced by Jamar Roberts. Readers may remember that it was he who danced the After The Rain Pas de Deux so beautifully will Sarah Daley in Bradford. The solo requires enormous strength and control which Roberts possesses in abundance. I want to be Ready is danced immediately before Sinner Man which was danced by Colin Hayward, Jermaine Terry and Solomon Dumas and presumably the juxtaposition between vice and virtue is not coincidental. The piece ending with the audience standing and clapping in time to Rocks My Soul to the Bosom of Abraham.

Someone told us that Alvin Ailey is on the syllabus of this year's "A" level dance course for one of the examination boards. That explains the presence of so many school students. They were a high spirited, giggly screeching bunch who leavened the atmosphere. Some of those students came from Huddersfield and it was good to see two of their teachers, Fiona Noonan and Sean Selby, in the audience.

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