Review: Ailey

Directed by Jamila Wignot, an immersive portrait of dance pioneer Alvin Ailey, told through his own words and a new dance inspired by his life. Featuring: Bill T. Jones, Robert Battle, Judith Jamison, Rennie Harris, George Faison and Sylvia Waters.

In the history of cinema, there tends to be repeated documentaries and biopics of the same figures, so it’s always a pleasure to see films emerging to tell stories of under-appreciated influential icons, like Alvin Ailey. It’s far from difficult to see the impact that Ailey had on the dance world within simply minutes of listening to the film’s interviewees. The sincere admiration and affection which they hold for him is overt and touching, there’s not only a love for his undeniable talent but for the man himself. It’s a fantastic selection of people who are not only extremely captivating but also speak with such an eloquence and emotion, which is lovely to watch.

It’s definitely a contributing factor to the peaceful yet melancholy flow to the documentary, especially when it’s edited beautifully together, by Annukka Lilja and Cory Jordan Wayne. There’s an expressive, refined and graceful feel to the way it moves, doing justice to the meaningful and powerful work of its namesake. The mix of archive footage of interviews and dance, added to the modern day pieces works extremely well to provide a rounded view of Ailey’s professional and personal life. It may hold some back from jumping into a documentary such as this if they don’t have an interest in dance, and while it may undoubtedly be beneficial, it isn’t necessary to still enjoy the story it has to tell.

A story that’s in some parts quite familiar, the greats always have a certain darkness, such a sincere amount of talent historically comes with its emotional woes, not to mention also hiding his sexuality and suffering from bipolar disorder. It creates an atmosphere that moves between sadness and triumph. There’s an intimate edge to how it presents itself, it’s emphatic and graceful, moving thoughtfully and taking its time to delve into Ailey’s work and the intensely thoughtful intentions behind each piece of choreography.

Ailey is a fitting homage to an underappreciated figure of history, striking the perfect tone to do justice to his story. Jamila Wignot creates a thoughtful, flowing and elegant atmosphere to explore the struggles and successes of Alvin Ailey. The selection of people chosen to talk about Ailey bring a genuinely moving show of their warmth and respect for him, and the legacy he left behind. Even those completely unfamiliar with the world of dance will still be able to appreciate this captivating story of an intensely talented man.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

In Cinemas & On Demand 7th January

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