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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
(through June 14)