believing with nothing

The Book of Revelation is the last book of the New Testament. Revelation contains 5 major visions. L. Michael White, bible scholar and director of the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins, believes the book unfolds like Chinese boxes. One box opens to another box. The reader “gets the sense that we are always in the sixth [box], just on the verge of the seventh thing happening. That’s what gives the book its sense of urgency and feel that something important is just about to happen.” I felt that way watching Alvin Ailey‘s signature choreographic work “Revelations.” Like something important was just about to happen.

I had never heard of it until last month. Friends were discussing it after seeing Philadanco, the Philadelphia Dance Company, perform at Cerritos Performing Arts Center.

“You’ve never seen it,” they all said, gasping for breath.

“I’ve never seen Ailey perform.”

Shocked is not the word to describe their faces. More than shocked fits.

Dancer Clifton Brown in a promotional poster f...

Image via Wikipedia

Last Friday, April 8, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (Music Center) in downtown LA. Since this is Judith Jamison’s last season the group is performing Revelations at each of their performances this season. Standout performances include “The Hunt” and “The Evolution Of A Secured Feminine.” However Revelations transcends dance. It’s like prayer, believing with nothing.

First produced by Ailey in 1960, Revelations is divided into three visions “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” “Take Me To The Water,” and “Move, Members, Move!”

Ailey described Pilgrim of Sorrow as “songs that yearn for deliverance, that speak of trouble and of this world’s trials and tribulations.” The dancers wear brown clothing and look up to the sky, arms fully extended, reaching their open hands spread-finger to the sky. The movement, bathed in yellow hues, represents “asking God for strength and guidance.”

Take Me To The Water, the second vision, represents baptism. The dancers, who make the overeffort look effortless, are dressed in all-white. The stage is blue-lit. Dancers off-stage wave a large blue silk fabric the length of the stage waving it gently symbolizing water. A minister baptizes a young couple. It represents Ailey’s own baptism in a pond behind his church.

Move, Members, Move! celebrates “the church” in the black community. Women wear yellow elaborate dresses and hats and use yellow fabric fans and stools to reenact the church. Men wear traditional “male costumes.” Songs that play include Nina Simone’s thunderous “Sinner Man” and “The Day Is Past and Gone,” “You May Run On,” and “Rocka My Soul In the Bosom of Abraham.” The synchronization is on-point, almost puppet-like.

What I found most amazing was their use of movement. I know it sounds silly. Dance is all movement. Compared to other dance theaters their bodies were in continuous movement. Hands didn’t stop when someone was lifted in the air. Feet didn’t stop when someone was lifted in the air. Every part of the body moved as if they fell in a body of water.

Lady Gaga’s avant-garde Grammy performance of the controversial song “Born This Way” may have been inspired by Ailey’s Revelations. (Interesting fact: Tamar Braxton‘s husband manages Lady Gaga. Tamar Braxton, Toni’s younger sister, is one of the stars of WE’s new reality show Braxton Family Values.

According to writer Meghan Blalock “Gaga’s latex top and skirt mimics the long dresses worn by the women in Revelations. Her dancers emerge in similar outfits, suggesting that she sees them as her equals, as her fellow freed slaves. The jacket she wears during part of her performance is similar to the button-front dresses worn in some stagings of Ailey’s ballet. The yellow hat is nearly identical to the one worn by the freed slave women in Revelations. The modernization of the costumes – the use of latex, minimalist at that – reflects Gaga’s own aesthetic and emphasizes that this performance is not Revelations – it’s Revelations for the 21st  century.”

“The visuals – the costuming, staging, and lighting – are not the only aspects of Gaga’s “Born This Way” performance that directly reference Ailey’s ballet. The choreography is strongly reminiscent of Revelations’ trademark movements, especially those found in Pilgrim of Sorrow.”

Check out the performance below to judge for yourself.

The book of Revelation brings together the worlds of heaven, earth, and hell in a final confrontation between the forces of good and evil. Its characters and images are both real and symbolic, spiritual and material. Revelations embodies the same elements. If you have not seen Alvin Ailey perform Revelations you need to. It may be the last time they perform it. The group is in Los Angeles until the 17 @ Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (Music Center) in downtown LA. I truly believe that art inspires art. Even if you aren’t a dancer and don’t follow it this will inspire you.

Additional Tour Dates:

  • New York, NY April 6-17, 2011 @ Ailey Citigroup Theater
  • Lexington, VA May 2, 2011 @ Lenfest Center for the Performing Arts
  • Mamaroneck, NY May 6, 2011 @ Emilin Theater

Coincidentally I went to The Abbey in WeHo on Sunday (black urban night) and ran into one of the dancers, Ghari DeVore, and gave her big hug. She’s stunning beautiful.

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Filed under save the date, The Written Word

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