Ailey 2 in Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Pictures: Nir Arieli

Ailey 2

The Next Generation of Dance

Birmingham Hippodrome


Ailey 2, the little sister company to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, arrived for its first night at Birmingham Hippodrome yesterday to roof-raising applause.

Now in its 50th year, Ailey 2 is universally renowned for merging the spirit and energy of the country’s best early-career dance talent with the passion and creative vision of today’s most outstanding and emerging choreographers.

Early career dancers they may be but make no mistake there is nothing “junior, developing or less than about any one of the 12 exceptional dancers that make up this touring company.

Throughout the programme's varied pieces (including the iconic Revelations more on that later) each dancer is given their moment to shine. Captivating us with passionate performances that can only be built on a foundation of impressive technical ability.  


Ailey 2 Artistic Director Francesca Harper

Skill and precision aside, what is really special about this group is that under the care of Artistic Director Francesca Harper, herself a graduate of the Alvin Ailey school, there is a clear sense of identity, perhaps rooted in the company’s long history, that simply radiates from the stage.

This culminates beautifully when we get to the final piece of the showcase, Revelations. Performed globally since 1960, at the time of its creation Alvin Ailey saw there was very little opportunity for dancers of African descent to perform. Wishing to create a space for Black dancers, taking inspiration from his own upbringing in the segregated south of America and infusing gospel and biblical references, Revelations became an icon of dance theatre.  

Ailey developed a new style and created key movements to tell a specifically African American story. Movements that whilst still being performed more than 60 years later are instantly recognizable. The fact that today it is performed by black, white and brown bodies and loses none of its power or emotion is a testament to the talents of the creative team as well as the dancers themselves. It means everyone can see themselves represented on stage which only adds to the uplifting spirit of this joyous finale.

The rest of the bill is made up of excerpts from choreographers Francesca Harper, Robert Battle and William Forsythe. Each one is more distinctive and different from the next. Threaded through all of them though is an incredible ability to sync movement with music/sound.

The opener Enemy in the Figure by Forsythe is a perfect example of this. The dancers seem to live inside the pulsing synth soundtrack (Thom Willems) making them appear as otherworldly as the music sounds.

The Hunt

Robert Battles The Hunt Picture: Nan Melville

Like a much needed deep cleansing breath after the explosive opening comes Freedom Series by Francesca Harper. The pace slows down but the emotion increases as we see the bonds of human connection played out in a dream-like sequence that uses lighted globes to both mesmerise and to lull us into what I can’t help thinking was a false sense of security before the third piece Robert Battles “The Hunt”.

After a brief interval The Hunt comes barreling in, a tsunami of power and masculinity. Where Freedom Series gently drew you in, the quartet of male dancers in The Hunt grab your attention by the scruff of its neck and do not let go as they power through choreography that is so primal in itself, that it’s hard to imagine that it came from a rehearsal room and not naturally from the depths of their very being.

There are themes of light and darkness that play throughout all three pieces. It's almost as if we are being exposed to the full spectrum of humanity before we return home to the familiarity and warmth of Revelations. The moment when the soul stirring opening notes of “I’ve been buked” finally play, feels well earned, it feels like coming home again.

This soaring production from Ailey 2 is modern dance theatre at its very best. A world class performance that more than deserved its standing ovation last night and the countless others it is sure to receive as the tour continues.

Janine Henderson


Index page Hippodrome Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre