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When dance is a revelation

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

The final act of this American modern dance company was called Revelation. It is Ailey's most popular and acclaimed work and probably the name can just as well sum up the whole company - a revelation.

They produce a joyous expression of dance culminating in  that final act which mixes blues, spirituals and gospel numbers from what Ailey described as his blood memories from his childhood in rural Texas in the 1930s.

African-American gospel music os a mix of dark despair and hope - a voice of humanity and perhaps the popularity of the final piece relies in part on the fact we know the songs and Ailey's talented dancers make us feel the emotions in such numbers as Sinner Man, Wade in the Water, Didn't the Lord Deliver Daniel and the rousing finale - and encore - Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.

In its 52 years it has grown into an internationally acclaimed company - it even had a mention in Private Practice on TV where the character who managed to obtain tickets to see them in their sell out shows immediately achieved god-like status.

HAPPY BUNCH

It is not difficult to see why they are so popular and why they sell out. For a start they appear a happy bunch. People seem to smile because they are happy not because that is what their drama teacher told them to do. Happiness is infectious. Then the dances and dancers are full of life and originality and as a bonus the members of the company come in many shapes and sizes. They may be extraordinarily fit and talented but they look like ordinary people which in a small way makes dance more accessible to the man, or woman, in the street. Finally they also just happen to be brilliant which is always a decent start for international recognition.

They opened with Hymn which is a collaboration between the company's artistic director Judith Jamison and American actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith - remember her as  Nancy McNally the president's security advisor in West Wing? This is a tribute in words and dance to Alvin Ailey who died in 1989. At times it is all a bit wordy and the middle sections are perhaps short of the odd spark but it gets by even if it doesn't set the stage alight

Things improve considerably with the middle piece, Anointed, a new three-parter by former AAADT dancer Christopher L Huggins and as soon as the lithe elegant Linda Celeste Sims glides on stage to tease the powerful Jamar Roberts you know you are in for something special. and you are not disappointed.

Another interval and a return to the 1960 signature piece Revelation. After half a century it still appears fresh, full of life and full of hope. It ended with whoops, whistles, cheers and a standing ovation - and an encore with souls back rockin' in the bosom of Abraham . Ooooh yehh.

Alvin Ailey ends tonight, 06-10-10. If you are at all interested in modern dance then start moving for tickets now.

Roger Clarke 

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