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THE late African-American dancer, choreographer and activist Alvin Ailey has left a great legacy — the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT).
It has been honouring black culture through dance since he founded the company in 1958, a time when racism was rife and many black dancers were denied opportunities to perform.
The company returns to Sadler’s Wells with new works split into three distinct programmes on different nights.
Lazarus, enjoying its British premiere after opening in New York last year, is a two-act ballet from renowned hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris that celebrates the life of Ailey and addresses racial inequalities still present in the US.
The hour-long work completes a trilogy for Harris, following his AAADT favourites Exodus and Home.
Under sparse, dark lighting, the first act is slow and bleak in tone as each step appears to reference the drudgery of life lived in a nightmarish dystopia.
Yet the piece shines brightest in its more energetic displays, unsurprising for a work created by this expert in hip-hop dance.
The speedy footwork to the tune of Michael Kiwanuka’s Black Man In A White World in the first act is mesmerising, while the carnivalesque second act is a joyous celebration of life, with electrifying routines to the beat of an African drum, a reminder of the piece’s focus on resurrection.
Other new works in the repertoire include The Call, a mix of modern and African dance set to a Bach score by choreographer Ronald K Brown and En, a choreographic debut for AAADT from Jessica Lang, which draws inspiration from the Japanese word referencing destiny, fate and life coming full circle.
Each programme ends with Ailey’s 1960 masterpiece Revelations, a spectacular illustration of African-American history from slavery to freedom through a series of dances set to gospel, blues and spirituals.
There’s the beautifully graceful Fix Me, Jesus, the powerful Sinner Man and the exuberant finale Rock-a My Soul In The Bosom Of Abraham.
And the baptismal Wade In The Water, with its emblematic blue ribbons stretched across the stage, still has to be one the most iconic moments in modern dance.
Thirty years after his death, Ailey’s legacy lives on.
Runs until September 14, box office: sadlerswells.com.
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