Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Reflections on Alvin Ailey Dances

Revelations by Alvin Ailey

I recently watched Alvin Ailey's Revelations on film and again I was struck by the power of this work. Alvin Ailey studied in Los Angeles with Lester Horton, whose strong, dramatic style and views about multiracial casting influenced his dance choreography and artistic direction. He moved to New York in 1954, where he studied dance with Martha Graham and Charles Weidman and acting with Stella Adler. In 1958 he formed his own company, the American Dance Theater, which, multiracial since 1963, has been internationally acclaimed and has brought recognition to many African-American and Asian dancers. Typically, Ailey's work combines jazz, modern, and African dance elements.

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater (also known as the Alvin Ailey Dance Company) is one of America's most renowned dance companies. Taking popular music, gospel and jazz and mixing the classical vocabulary of ballet with contemporary styles, the Company radiates an energy that cannot be ignored. International ambassadors of African-American culture, the Company has performed for over an estimated 19 million people in 68 countries on six different continents. From its first performance in 1958, it has changed the way people view dance and the African-American aesthetic. Alvin Ailey's most famous work, Revelations, is a glorious celebration of the gospel and spiritual music Ailey grew up with in Texas during the 1940's. Created in 1960, this classic piece of modern dance theatre still inspires audiences whenever it is performed.

If "Revelations" is no longer revelatory, it nevertheless retains its dramatic power and kinesthetic kick. Choreographed by Ailey in 1960 as a tribute to his Baptist boyhood, its devotional fervor and half a dozen now-iconic images still present a compelling picture of people connecting to a higher power. The dancers, as if responding to the enjoining title of the final section -- "Move, Members, Move" -- ride this gospel soundtrack to heaven.

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