Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returned to the Birmingham Hippodrome on Saturday – the first time since their sell out 2010 tour. A company with impeccable reputation and a unique legacy, it's synonymous with meaningful choreography and highly trained, vibrant dancers.  Saturday’s programme (A), which included four works by extremely different choreographers, was not only moving but thought-provoking, funny, sad, beautiful, poignant and absolutely powerful. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Robert Battle, this line-up wowed the audience. 

Akua Noni Parker and Jamar Roberts in Wheeldon's <i>After the Rain pas de deux</i> © Paul Kolnik
Akua Noni Parker and Jamar Roberts in Wheeldon's After the Rain pas de deux
© Paul Kolnik
Rennie Harris’ Exodus was an interesting take on the tension around gun violence and crime. The mix of Gospel-House music was an integral part of the work and the clusters of dancers slowly moving in a pedestrian fashion were a nice contrast to the larger ensemble and unison dances that came later in the piece. The hip circles and the hip-hop footwork reminded me of some local b-boy dancers battling it out. Defiant fist raises were a stark contrast to some of the faster jive leg work that followed. Choreographically, Exodus is incredibly smart and Harris clearly has an eye for patterns. The angel-like character, who at times moved me to tears, offered peace and resolution, and was a figure of hope in Harris’ dark, poignant piece. 

Ronald K. Brown is another powerful African American choreographer and dancer, His piece Four Corners features 11 dancers on stage, depicting spiritual seekers amid the four angels standing on the Earth. The women wore wrapped dresses in varying shades of purple and the men had purple tops and trousers. The bodies moved to a series of styles that ranged from blues to African dance songs. One of the cleverest transitions of the piece was the slow dance by two of the leading dancers – a sweet and gentle duet to remember. Brown is brilliant at moulding his dancers so their bodies do what he wants. It is well known that Ailey movers are incredibly trained and that their bodies are reflections of the years of fine-tuning but what is refreshing to see is that they are not after offering big tricks, unless the piece calls for it. Here, they refrained from over reaching and saved those big movements for other moments where such expansive gestures added value to the choreography.

Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain: pas de deux made clearly visible the central classical training of the company. The elegance and grace of Akua Noni Parker and Jamar Roberts was simply breathtaking. The simplicity of the costumes, a pink leotard for her and a pair of trousers for him, allowed the etching of the muscles to glisten onstage. From one sequence to the other, the dancers' movements to Arvo Part’s music was both calming and mesmerizing.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in <i>Revelations</i> © Christopher Duggan
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Revelations
© Christopher Duggan
It would not be a true Alvin Ailey experience without the choreographer's legendary Revelations. With such an emblematic piece, expectations run quite high. However the company certainly delivered; their performance not only relevant to the times, but also reflective of their individual voices and interpretation of the work. Each section was better than the last. With standing ovations after the final bows, the Alvin Ailey American Theatre certainly deserved every applause they received. Stunning work!

*****