The Ailey tour hits Nottingham

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' Exodus. Photo by Pierre Wachholder


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Thank you to LIPA student Hannah Storey for updating us half way through the Ailey UK tour… and all your hard work in the theatre!

After interviewing with Heather Knight earlier this year at LIPA, I was invited to join the Dance Consortium on their tour with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater!

On the first day, Synne Knudtzon and I arrived at the Park Plaza Hotel, Nottingham, quite unsure of what we would be doing the weeks ahead but, undeniably, very excited! At dinner, Heather discussed with us what our role would be and the positions of others within the company.

The following day, the three of us met with Rachel from the finance department at the Theatre Royal and Concert Hall. She described the complications that arise when a theatre is run by the City Council. It was fascinating to hear the ins and outs of sending paperwork between numerous offices to get the job done, especially with only three people in the entire department (who inevitably work overtime to ensure everything runs smoothly).

The first responsibility we were given was the programmes. We began liaising with the Front of House Manager, Dan, to go through the ‘Venue Checklist’ and arrange how many boxes the theatre would take to sell. As Ailey does not have any merchandise, it is important that this is calculated accurately to ensure maximum income.

That afternoon, we joined an audience of 400 to watch the Open Rehearsal. We observed two dancers perform Ailey’s 1970s solo ‘Cry’. The performance was highly intimate and it was fascinating to see the women receive feedback and suggestions by Associate Artistic Director Masazumi Chaya. One of them jokingly collapsed on the floor from exhaustion afterwards, which is something you would not normally get to see!

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Jacqueline Green in Alvin Ailey's Cry. Photo by Paul Kolnik

We were able to watch the evening performance, which would be my first time (of hopefully many times) seeing Ailey live. The dancers were performing Programme A in Nottingham, which consisted of: Exodus, Four Corners, After the Rain Pas de Deux and Revelations.

The show opened with the powerful ‘Exodus’, choreographed in 2015 by Rennie Harris. This choreography incorporates Hip Hop into their traditional movements, as well as the use of acting to demonstrate the racial and political themes; all very relevant to current news reports in America.

‘Four Corners’ (2013) by Ronald K. Brown, is mesmerising in contrast; created with smooth, synchronised movements and building on the unity showed in ‘Exodus’. The traditional African costumes add to the performance, as a reminder of their origins. In a recent Q & A session, dancer Jacqueline Green described her understanding of ‘Four Corners’ that it “brings all corners of the Earth together… And the Mother figure opens up the space between them”.

‘After the Rain Pas de Deux’ (2014) develops a deep story line between the duo. The music “Spiegel Im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt is a beautiful accompaniment and assists in building the characterisation of the roles. Many meanings can be interpreted from this duet.

Lastly, the show ends with the timeless ‘Revelations’. Ailey’s choreography shows his experiences of 1960’s southern America. From start to end, the dances never fail to impress. Heavy religious themes feature in ‘Revelations’, yet it remains relatable and deeply meaningful even for an Atheist audience member.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Photo by Pierre Wachholder

Overall, the eclectic dance styles create a phenomenal piece of dance theatre. Personally, I have never seen anything quite like it – so was genuinely moved by the performances.

We later attended the Post Show talk and Q & A with dancers Michael Jackson Jr and Jacquelin Harris. The remaining audience comprised of a mix of people; students wishing to know the dancers’ favourite pieces, some new Ailey fans interested to hear about the meaning behind each performance and others who felt they could relate to the deep racial themes brought into the pieces, focusing mainly on ‘Exodus’. One question that stood out was from a woman who was intrigued to know how the dancers could perform such ‘real life’ situations without being overcome by emotion. The dancers answered so truthfully and thoroughly that I left the auditorium feeling that I had not only gained a greater understanding of Alvin Ailey’s choreography, but also with an insight into the lives of a minority and the racism some experience daily.

On our second day in Nottingham we watched a Masterclass with young professionals, led by Linda Sims. She challenged the dancers with small sections of the repertoire and taught them a number of new techniques, many inspired by Lester Horton (20th Century Choreographer).

After completing a beer run for house technicians – as a thank you for their hard work – and collecting the sign in sheets from Stage Door (vital for the touring companies visas as proof of whereabouts), we were ready for an early night to process all of the information we had received – and be ready for the rest of Heather’s 100 top tips!

Thoroughly enjoyable and valuable experience so far with the Dance Consortium team.

Next stop, Cardiff!

Hannah Storey is a student at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts