ALVIN Ailey American Dance Theater started out as a performance at a modest venue in New York in 1958.

Led by dancer/choreographer /director/activist Alvin Ailey and a group of fellow young African American dancers, it was a performance that changed American dance forever.

The Ailey company has gone on to dance for millions of people, to great acclaim, across the world. In 2008 a US Congressional resolution designated the company “a vital American cultural ambassador to the world” for its celebration of the African American cultural experience and enrichment of the American modern dance heritage.

Alvin Ailey died in 1989 and today his New York-based company continues his mission to present dances from the past along with new works, and to provide a platform for young talent. This week Alhambra audiences were lucky enough to see this next generation of the Alvin Ailey family.

Ailey 2, the youth section of the company, brought a dazzling three-act show to the Alhambra, highlighting the extraordinary skill and athleticism of these remarkable young people.

The show began with Enemy in the Figure, the central section of William Forsythe’s eponymous work, originally created in 1989. This excerpt showcased the young dancers’ formidable skills and energy beautifully as they raced across the stage, feathery tassles on their pants catching the light, against a driving percussive electronic score.

Freedom Series, choreographed by Ailey 2 Artistic Director Francesca Harper, took us through a landscape of memories via a series of tender vignettes, set against a striking light display, reflecting identity and community.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Stunning light display in Freedom Series Stunning light display in Freedom Series (Image: Erin Baiano)

The Hunt, by Robert Battle, is a visceral, athletic work performed by four men to a thundering percussion soundtrack by

Les Tambours du Bronx. Powerful and raw, it lays bare the predatory nature of humans, and the primitive thrill of the hunt.

When Alvin Ailey began creating dances, he drew upon memories and music of his childhood in Texas. The blues and gospel he grew up with inspired his critically acclaimed Revelations - the company’s signature piece today.

I first saw Revelations performed at Sadlers Wells and it blew me away. Once seen, it’s never forgotten.

Using African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs and holy blues, it encompasses grief and joy in the soul.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Kali Marie Oliver and Andrew Bryant in Revelations Kali Marie Oliver and Andrew Bryant in Revelations (Image: Nir Arieli)

Ailey once said that one of America’s richest treasures was the African-American cultural heritage - “sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful.”

This rousing classic, so beautifully performed on the Alhambra stage by these young dancers, is a tribute to that heritage and to Ailey’s genius.

As a young dancer/choreographer, Alvin Ailey’s vision was to express his perception of black culture and life, to

reflect the African American experience “boldly and beautifully through dance”.

He created a safe space and an opportunity for African American dancers to thrive and to express themselves, through a repertoire rooted in blues, jazz and church.

Generations of his dancers have created and performed stories that have mesmerised audiences for decades, dealing with

the social, political and deeply personal.

In showcasing the American modern dance heritage and celebrating the African American cultural experience Ailey left a global legacy in dance; many companies here in the UK that are showcasing black culture and the black experience in a variety of styles of movement owe a great deal to Alvin Ailey.

As Black History Month enters its last week, Bradford audiences are lucky to have had the opportunity to see this new generation of Ailey dancers.

The Ailey 2 UK tour was brought here by the Dance Consortium, comprising venues around the country, of which the Alhambra is one. The Consortium brings dance companies from around the world to the UK.

Its relationship with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater spans 20 years and has led to the Ailey Project UK, a programme of workshops, panels, mock auditions and summer courses, developing opportunities for emerging dance artists in Britain.

Says Joe Bates, executive director at Dance Consortium: “Over the past three years, Dance Consortium has built partnerships with black-led youth dance organisations nationwide to provide a range of activities engaging young people with the dancers and teachers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

“We are committed to supporting the wider dance and touring ecology through project such as the Ailey Project UK and our Future Leaders programme. We will be extending our engagement opportunities with the incoming artists and companies over the next few tours.”

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