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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
at the Paris Dance Festival

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 22 October 2001 - In these uncertain times, the prospect of seeing the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the opening of the Nouveau Festival International de Danse de Paris was really something to look forward to. However, on this occasion, expectations were only partially fulfilled due to the choice of repertory coupled by the fact that none of the ballets presented was accompanied by live music.

The programme began with Grace, a 1999 work by Ronald K. Brown, set to various pieces of music including Duke Ellington's Come Sunday, passing by the hip hop style of Roy Davis Junior and Paul Johnson. The ballet, requested by the French organisers, had obviously been considered a good curtain- raiser with which to open the Festival, presided over, as it was two years ago by Madame Bernadette Chirac. But with its limited choreography and poorly amplified music, it was slick, sophisticated, and empty. Perhaps a feast for the eyes, but certainly not for the soul. Hardly a cut above what can be seen in a Paris disco. The fact that it was superbly danced does in no way excuse it, for Alvin Ailey's company is far more than just another troupe of lovely dancers with beautiful bodies in swirling scarlet performing works which are neither particularly modern, nor particularly West African.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Photo: J.C. Gesaviers

The second piece, Following the Subtle Current Upstream, striking though it was, had little more to recommend it. What it did show, however, is that the technical level of the troupe seems to have gone even higher since they were last in France. A plotless work, Following the Subtle Current ...., gives free rein to all the performers and highlights five male virtuosos, big, graceful men whose rapid yet vibrant dancing was so amazing that at times I actually thought the stage was moving. Nor were they helped by the music of Zakir Hussain, all plonks and twangs, and over-loud in the packed auditorium.

The company finally came into their own with Revelations, the sublime one act ballet set to a score based on traditional black religious music , created by Ailey when he was twenty-nine years old. Tracing man's spiritual journey from suffering through to repentance, and on to joyful salvation, the work remains as new and fresh as it must have been at its creation over forty years ago. Exceptional from the very first moment by virtue of both the choreography and the interpretation, it has style and distinction. Emotionally and visually extremely beautiful, it has understandably become the company's signature work, illustrating their very reason for being. It is works of this quality which have given the company such a strong identity and renown, for dance, even extraordinary dance, is not simply about admiring the interpreters if the movements they are making are meaningless. The current troupe is extremely likeable and the power of interpretation stupendous. With such artists, why programme works which are merely displays of technique?

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Revelations
Photo: J.C. Gesaviers

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be appearing in New York in December 2001 with a new work by Judith Jamison.

The Festival continues with performances by the Ballet du Theatre National de Prague which will be followed by the Tokyo Ballet.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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