The trouble with all that jazz

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AAADT’s second Jazz Programme made me worry seriously about the direction this engaging company is taking. The effect of more of this type of dance is, depressingly, less. I was, if truth be told, uncomfortable with an essentially black company locked into bumping and grinding their way to jazz – it all felt too much of a dated cliché. In addition, the choreography in three of the four pieces was almost indistinguishable in style and content, with even the costumes limited to cheerleader “lite” for the women and sateen pants for the men.

The Road of the Phoebe Snow is an ultimately dated youth and rape ballet from 1959 – West Side Story meets The Invitation – by Talley Beatty, an important figure in the history of black dance. However, the pedigree cannot disguise the pedestrian quality of the choreography and it was only the luminous Linda Celeste Sims as the central girl who transcended the material.

From 33 years later, Billy Wilson’s The Winter in Lisbon was deeply tedious – his credits include the choreography for Bubbling Brown Sugar, so it was no surprise to see the poor AAADT dancers togged up and jigging away like Kid Creole’s backing dancers. Awful. Worse still, a world première no less by Camille A. Brown (one of “the 25 to watch in dance”, apparently – I didn’t know there were that many) entitled The Groove to Nobody’s Business, which puts the dancers on a Manhattan subway train. That’s it. A St Vitus’s dance convention until the curtain comes down. There is more than a nod to Jerome Robbins’ delightful The Concert, subtitled “The Perils of Everybody”, but the similarity ends there; Brown should take the A train and get another job.

Programme 3 perhaps showed the way forward – interesting pieces from idioms outside the company’s established aesthetic. In addition to Ailey’s wonderful Revelations, there were two new acquisitions: Béjart’s soixante-huitard Firebird and Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section. The former is somewhat dated in its firebird-as-spirit-of-individualism-against-the-forces-of-authority premise, but what was fascinating was the struggle of the Ailey dancers to master Béjart’s neo-classicism. It is an uneasy relationship, and not always successful, but I was especially impressed with Jamar Roberts as the regenerative spirit/phoenix and (yet again) Linda Celeste Sims.

Tharp’s 1980s exuberance, all Wonder Woman and Flash Gordon dorés, was a little disappointing – Ailey’s dancers seemed oddly earthbound and were merely dutiful in the unnecessarily complicated lifts, although this was almost offset by the sheer enthusiasm of their performance. They are a little thick-in-thigh for Tharp’s most extravagant demands, but here, unlike in much of their repertoire, they are pushed and challenged, which is all to the good. They are a talented company that needs stimulation – this programme certainly gave that. A word of warning: if you purchase a top-price ticket at Sadler’s Wells, be prepared to sit next to a babe in arms, thanks to the theatre’s misguided admissions policy. It certainly ruined many a punter’s pleasure on Sunday afternoon.

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