Alvin Ailey Revelations Essay Example



The dance I had the pleasure to watch was Revelations, a 2015 sequence of dance performances that premiered on Lincoln Center’s  Youtube page last week on December 6. It was first  produced by Alvin Ailey in the 1960s and has then since been known as one of the best jazz and spiritual performances, with a well diverse cast of characters. The Revelations performance I watched was performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the 2015 Lincoln Center at the Movies production! show. Revelations is a series of dances that depict the struggles, hopes and faith of African Americans from slavery to now. The particular performance that I will be analyzing is Processional Honor, Honor Wade in the Water.  

The theme of Processional/ Honor, Honor Wade in the Water is most clearly that of water. The performance begins with a man dressed in white holding white objects upright in his hands as he twirls into the stage.  A woman quickly joins him on the stage moving in the same way he did except there is no object in her hand.  While this is occurring the music is a series of repetitive harmonies that is quickly joined in by the quick beat of drums, when the woman in white quickly beckons over a man and woman to enter the stage. The man and woman, also wearing white, appear to be a couple and as soon as they enter they begin to clasps their own hands together , slowly leaning their body forwards as if they were praying. Soon after, a woman carrying an white umbrella quickly enters the stage, accompanied by two men carrying white objects while the previous woman in white joins the couple in their prayer. After everyone is on stage the ensemble of dancers crowd up and line up together as if they were in a procession with the man and the woman who first appeared on the stage leading. As they are doing this, their bodies are swaying side to side while they step forwards and backwards like they are doing the salsa. The dancers are completely in tune with the music, hitting sharp movements everytime the beat drops, especially the first woman in white who raises her leg into the air the first time the beat drops. Throughout the performance ,there is a clear distinction of pairings ; the two dancers in the beginning, the couple and the lady holding the umbrella, and the last two men holding white objects. These three pairings, everytime one pairing did a particular move, the other two would be doing completely different things. This would only stop once they joined back together in line as a procession and repeated the same swaying movements with their hips. However this time, the couple and the umbrella lady slowly leave the stage, letting  the other pairings do their solo group performances. In this segment ,the two men carrying the umbrellas are mostly doing floor choreography (lifting their legs high in the air as well as doing a form of sit ups) while holding the long white object upright. Meanwhile, the man and woman introduced in the beginning perform a duet, mirroring each other . They spin together with one leg raised up in the air with their arms stretched out to the sky. Suddenly, the music changes quickly with actual lyrics being sung as the couple and the umbrella lady join the stage and switch places with the other group. During this scene, the trio dance across the stage, turning and spinning as the song belts out about going to the waterside. 

As the lady in the song sings the lines “running to be baptized”, two men run in towards the trio carrying a long white cloth. The trio stand behind the two men and the white cloth that is carried on either side of them, with the umbrella lady a bit behind the couple. The couple hold up both their hands and close their eyes, while everyone begins to slowly bow their hands as if they are praying and then the couple raises their arms in their air as to rejoice. This continues on for a moment until music changes again into a more soulful piece and long pieces of blue ribbons are thrown on the floor to signify water. During this time the lady carrying the white umbrella begins her solo by stepping forward towards the audience and into the ‘water’  with her right arm making  sharp and flowy waves while her left arm still holds the umbrella upright. She gestures  towards the couple to join her and the couple who at first, look at each other hesitant. They slowly step into the water and as they get deeper and deeper into the water, their movements become more assured and confident. Through this,  you can hear the lyrics “wade in the water” being repeatedly sung, more powerful each repeat. As this is sung the trio begin to make big gestures with their arms , swaying it slowly as if they are wading in water, using their hips and their balls of feet to move around. Not long after,the lady with the umbrella leaves the stage taking away the water with her while the couple begin their duet of them rejoicing their baptism.  The performance ends with the procession from the beginning, leading the newly baptized couple out with the male carrying the women as she shakes and raises her hands out.   

When I first watched the beginning scenes of the performances I immediately thought about how during slavery times, slaves would travel through bodies of water in order to get to Canada without the blood hounds being able to follow their tracks. However as I saw the white cloth and the ribbons that resembled water, I understood that this was about becoming baptized. The compositional structure of the dance is a Narrative;  aman and a woman are being led by a procession of people carrying bapstimal related things to become baptized. The umbrella lady acts as a guide for them and symbolizes what I believe to be baptism itself or maybe even the Holy Spirit. The couple are nervous about being baptized but once they enter the body of water, they become in tune with God and more spiritual which fits well with the soulful song that is used in the last segment. The music arrangement was dedicatedly arranged as each song fit the particular scene at each different moment. The songs moved from fast to slow to fast multiple times through the dance and the transitions between them went very smoothly. The dancers were fantastic and in complete unison. Each dancer had their own role and performed them all so splendidly. Ailey did a wonderful job of choreographing the performance to use as much space as much as possible. The dancers never stayed in one place, they spun, glided, swayed, and waded around the stage, wondrously bringing to life this performance.