"Celebrating Revelations at 50" was the theme of the performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater that I saw last Sunday in Philadelphia. And that picture right there shows two of the company members. Pretty amazing, right? I mean, those feet and extensions are just unreal! Imagine seeing a stage full of beautiful dancers like that doing some of the most difficult modern choreography there is, all while making it seem completely effortless. For instance, in one of the pieces, the dancers had to do what's called a hinge where they balance on the balls of their feet, keep their bodies flat as a board, and lower down to a couple inches from the floor. AND COME BACK UP. They did this completely controlled and calm as if it was something they could do in their sleep. I was absolutely amazed. Not only could the dancers perform impressive skills and technique, but they were captivating performers. Any one of those dancers could have simply wiggled their index finger and it would have been beautiful. They moved with such grace, yet with such strength. The change in dynamics throughout the entire show is what made the dancing so interesting to watch.
Now, if you don't know Revelations, you should. It is one of the most famous modern pieces in American history. It was choreographed by Alvin Ailey himself in 1960, hence the title "Celebrating Revelations at 50". This ballet has three sections: Pilgrim of Sorrow, Take Me to the Water, and Move, Members, Move. By the way, it is modern dance, but they called his dances ballets, just so there's no confusion. These dances are about African American struggles, slavery, and religion. Pilgrim of Sorrow is a very serious and somber section that seems to demonstrate the suffering and desperation that these people went through. One of my favorite dances from this section was called, "Fix Me, Jesus".
Being a dancer, I can understand how challenging this piece would be because of how much control is needed, but the dancers make it look completely light and easy and that is why it is so wonderful to watch. The woman's extensions are incredible and the man partners her like she is as light as a feather. I was definitely in awe the whole time I was watching this live. The next two sections are more upbeat and energetic. Take Me to the Water is about a ceremonial baptism where the dancers enter in white holding large pieces of white fabric on sticks and a huge, white umbrella. They even have a piece of blue fabric spanning the stage that they shake to look like ripples in a river! This one is also a must see:
Move, Members, Move is also high energy and the setting is in a church around the time of slavery. All the women were wearing yellow and they had fans that they never stopped fluttering. The men were in suits and they all danced together like they were celebrating. The mood was very cheerful and as an audience member I felt like I was celebrating too. After the company's bows, they did an encore of this dance and the whole theatre was on its feet clapping to the beat of the music. It was just a great atmosphere to be in.
This was my first time seeing most of these ballets performed live and I was impressed by the choreographic style and structure that was used. As I mentioned before, Revelations was choreographed by Alvin Ailey, but there were two other ballets that were featured. They were called, "Dancing Spirit" and "Forgotten Time". The first was choreographed by Ronald K. Brown and the second by Judith Jamison. Dancing Spirit started off with one man onstage standing completely still. He began with simple, straight arm movements and changes in facing. One by one, all nine dancers came out repeating the same basic movements until everyone had gone across the stage. The dance progressed to include free, undulating movement in the arms and torso, which was totally different from the beginning steps with upright posture. There was an anticipation as the piece built and there was a lot of repetition within the dance. For example, one person would perform a movement phrase and another person would start the same one eight seconds later, so they were doing the same thing but at different times.
Another structure I saw in Forgotten Time was beginning and ending the dance in the same way so it came full circle. I liked this because it made the dance feel complete. The dancers started off in the center facing stage right looking up into the curtains as if they were remembering something. At different times the women would be quickly spun around by the men and then easily placed on their shoulders, still staring up into the distance. I'm not sure what they were focusing on, but my interpretation was they were looking at the past, then looking into the future. The dance ended the same exact way with a progression of the dancing inbetween. They had a strong focus on something in the beginning and the end, which is why I think this dance was about past vs. future.
I'm so glad I got to experience the incredible dancers and the amazing choreography of AAADT live right in front of my eyes. Seeing a performance in person is so much better than seeing it on video. Most of the time the video doesn't do it justice. So if you watch these videos that I posted, just take your excitement and multiply it by ten. Being there in the theatre I could see every little detail like the costumes, the articulation of the feet traveling across the floor, and the sweat rolling off of the dancer's necks. It's amazing to be in that atmosphere where the audience's energy level matches that of the dancers' as they are performing. This video is of my favorite piece in the whole entire show, "Sinner Man". It is probably one of the most strong, technical, powerful, energizing, and challenging routines I have ever seen. It encompasses everything that I described about the detail, the atmosphere, and the pure talent of these dancers.