The second of three programmes by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Sadler’s Wells followed hot on the heels of the first, although, disappointingly, it failed to match the effervescent levels of brio from that opening night. Any performance that includes Revelations – the company’s signature work that ends virtually every show – is worth it, but the works that came before struggled to make an indelible mark.

AAADT in Jessica Lang's <i>EN</i> © Paul Kolnik
AAADT in Jessica Lang's EN
© Paul Kolnik

The first act was devoted to a 20-minute contemporary ballet entitled EN, which had the double significance of bringing up the century of Jessica Lang choreographies (an amazing tally for one so young) while being the first piece she has made on the Ailey dancers (one of whom, Kanji Segawa, dancing in this performance, is Lang’s husband). The enigmatic title is derived from Segawa’s homeland of Japan, having something to do with karma, destiny and the circle of life. Circles also played the major part of a simple but effective set design (by Lang herself, in cooperation with lighting designer, Nicole Pearce), consisting of a large orb at stage level from behind which came a celestial light filtering into a sky blue background like ink absorbed into blotting paper, these colours changing with the dance sequences; while another much smaller globe hovered up towards the flies like an all-seeing drone; the allusion to sun and moon reinforcing the Elysian flavour of Lang’s choreography. But, unlike the moon, this second sphere descended to become a pendulum, like a life-sized executive toy, swinging across the stage.

It is a pity to report that – with specific exceptions – Lang’s choreography did not have the same memorable impact as these designs. Elegant dancers swirled across the stage in varying choreographic patterns (circles being a common theme) with the most notable, a moving line of a human chain stretching out diagonally, performers fluidly connected to each other by touching or holding different parts of the next body while in diverse positions. It was movement with an arresting sculptural quality. A quiet, soulful section dominated by the compelling presence of Jacqueline Green was another highlight.

AAADT's Solomon Dumas in <i>The Call</i> © Paul Kolnik
AAADT's Solomon Dumas in The Call
© Paul Kolnik

The Call by Ronald K Brown is a work that deserves a second viewing. Made less than a year ago, it is described as “a love letter to Mr Ailey” and packs three very diverse sections into 20 minutes: a shimmying, swirling interpretation of Bach by dancers essaying Baroque-style movement in elegant flowing costumes; a nonchalant, jazz-infused nightclub-style duet; and a West African quintet, performed to rhythmic chants and drumming that ends, presciently, in the same formation as Revelations begins: arms raised and extended, like the wings of eagles, in a diamond-shaped pattern.

This was followed immediately by Juba, the first work made on the company by Robert Battle (now the artistic director), back in 2003. A quartet, performed to the insistent rhythms of John Mackey’s music (clearly modelled on The Rite of Spring); its frenetic, angst-ridden motifs seemed dated and repetitive (including childish, continual jumping on both legs and the three men pummelling their thighs with closed fists). It is perhaps one to be consigned to the company’s history.

AAADT in <i>Juba</i> © Nan Melville
AAADT in Juba
© Nan Melville

The trick of performing the same work repeatedly is that it must be kept fresh but even Revelations seemed to have lost some of its sparkle with all the roles rotated on the second night of this London season. The poignant soulful parts (I Been ‘Buked, Fix Me Jesus, Sinner Man) were as powerful as ever but a kind of communal jet lag seemed to have taken the edge off the joyful vitality of the final sections. Nonetheless, even under-played, it remains a wonderful celebration of the human spirit.

***11