“Revelations” is the signature dance production number from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and is an absolute must-see for everyone everywhere, regardless of age, gender, race or even knowledge and appreciation of this art form. The music, comprised of African American spirituals, and the dance routines, full of grace and humanity, tell a historical narrative that relates to both the past and current times. We are indeed privileged to have an opportunity to experience the Alvin Ailey modern dance routines locally at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. Even though Ailey spent his formative years in Los Angeles, the Ailey Headquarters are back east in New York. The Ailey Company has grown to perform live for 25 million people on six continents.
This year the Segerstrom Center really pulled out all the stops to make an “Ailey Week” full of diversity and interaction. Last Saturday the Center had a free outdoor kick-off “Revelations Celebration.” Two accomplished Ailey dancers taught the choreography and discussed the meanings of the stories inspiring the movements. There were community members of all ages present, ranging from kindergarten to senior citizens, who were all actively participating together in joyous dance.
Before the actual performance run of Thursday through Sunday, there was a mini-performance on Wednesday evening. The artistic director, Robert Battle, as well as choreographers and dancers spoke, answered questions from the audience, and gave a behind-the-scenes look into a class at the Ailey School. The main show was comprised of 3 dance routines separated by 2 intermissions, which, besides giving the dancers a much needed break, allowed the audience to reflect on what just happened and to anticipate what would come next.
The first number, “Chroma” looked like a high-tech posture show in which both the males and females wore the same ensembles. The next production entitled “D-Man In The Waters” was a military drill complete with army uniforms and a storyline dealing with the AIDS epidemic.
The first two numbers had thrilling, precise choreography, but still left me with a void that could only be filled by a divinely inspired and meaningful work of art. “Revelations” was definitely the relief for that predicament. The routine has 3 prominent sections brought about by defining moods and colors. This piece was a true reflection of Alvin Ailey’s “blood memories” of what he observed and experienced in his life. The first section was called “Pilgrim of Sorrow” with the brown color being prominent to show how the people had struggles and turbulent times on the land. “Take Me To The Water” was the second part; the white color showcased to deliver how important water is in religious baptisms and prayers. The dancers became one with the water in the eloquent metaphorical choreography. Then there was an interlude entitled “Sinner Man” in which three men took individual turns of rapid and precise movements upon a red background. Finally, the brightness and warmth of yellow overtook the stage in the final part called “Move, Members, Move.” This joyous dance used a few props hand-held fans and little sitting stools to show the African American experience in the deep south at the turn of the century. The imagery and attitude of this final section brought memories to me of Steven Spielberg’s cinematic masterpiece “The Color Purple,” as both transported the audience to an era of African Americans on plantations.
Meena Hora, an audience member and special education teacher from Irvine, who experienced Alvin Ailey’s work for the first time, described “Revelations” as having a religious undercurrent with universal appeal in the philosophical way of living life and being ready for death. She compared the astonishing and unbelievable ballet lifts and twists to Olympic athletes.
The last number was a total rejoicing of the spirit and soul. The entire “Revelations” program captivated the audience from start to end because of the purity of the dance and music of the African American spirituals combined in a heart-warming delivery.
“Revelations” has not changed one single step of it’s choreography since Ailey premiered it over five decades ago in 1960. It is the work of a genius and still holds up now. We are very lucky and blessed to be able to experience “Revelations.” It should be on the bucket-list of everyone regardless of whether or not you can understand the language in the African American spirituals or not. Fortunately, it is the most viewed modern dance in history, but there are still many people who don’t know anything about it at all. The Segerstrom Center had buses take young middle school students to experience the show. Alvin Ailey himself was introduced to dance by a school field trip. Hopefully this legendary production will live on forever.