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ALVIN AILEY

 
 

REVELATIONS!

   

 

  

 

Alvin Ailey's 50th Anniversary performances at BAM are happening right now! And eCognoscente was there last night.  It was an evening of memories, of classic Ailey, of remembrance and celebration. 

The program began with Blues Suite (1958) - space shaped with bodies, playfulness, musicality, with a live performance by the Brawner Brothers Band and magnificent vocals by Kenny Brawner.  Often considered Ailey's first masterpiece, Blues Suite is a series of vignettes, impressions of the blues (songs of lament, of love, but also of protest) and now a modern dance classic.

This followed by excerpts from classic Ailey pieces and then the grand finale -- what the audience was really waiting for: Revelations (1960) - the dance which The New York Times has said is "…the dance equivalent of dying and going to heaven…."  Revelations has become iconic, a familiar song of such power and beauty that is new with each singing.

Revelations is ultimately about joy - and the journey from oppression to an ecstatic deliverance.  The seed - a gospel song Ailey had heard as a child - what he called the "blood memories" of his rural Texas upbringing ("I been buked and I been scorned").  It includes the marvelous Wade in the Water, which pays homage to abolitionists, dancers in white and billowing waves of blue fabric, and Rock-a My Soul

Ailey's influences and sources are varied --the writings of James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, Oriental Theater, the paintings of Brueghel, memories of Baptist services in the Texas of his childhood.  But Revelations is about the music -- music and dance are intertwined, inexorably - they are the partners here.  Ailey has said, "Revelations began with the music.  As early as I can remember I was enthralled by the music played and sung in the small black churches in every small Texas town my mother and I lived in.  No matter where we were during those nomadic years, Sunday was always a churchgoing day.  There we would absorb some of the most glorious singing to be heard anywhere in the world…I tried to put all of the feeling into Revelations…."  The religiosity is without irony, is offered up ecstatically. 

The ballet begins with the dancers in position like some glorious bird with wings outstretched.  The costumes are shades of brown in all its hues, the colors of mud, of soil (all things of the earth).  Later they are white and a pale blue (what Ailey referred to as baptism, purification) and then shades of earth, yellow, and black (gospel and happiness). There is also the influence of Henry Moore and this can be seen in the draped fluidity of jersey in the costumes, figures made abstract, taut with tension….everything held together with the implicit ecstasy of spirituals.    

 

See: Alvin Ailey, BAM (through June 14)     


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