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Alvin Ailey's Revelation Still Invokes Deep Feelings



During 2024’s Black History Month, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC presented a dance concert by the well-known Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT). Its dancers, all highly talented, performed three works, “Century,” choreographed by Amy Hall-Gerner, “Me, Myself and You,” by Elizabeth Rocxas-Dubrish and “Revelations,” the immortal masterpiece, choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1960.


While watching the dancers do Revelations, one of the greatest dances created in the twentieth century, I reflected on what Alvin said about it in his autobiography, Revelations, which I authored with him. “Revelations began with the music. As early as I can remember, I was enthralled by the music played and sung in the small Black churches in every small Texas town my mother and I lived in. No matter where we were during those nomadic years, Sunday was always a churchgoing day. There we would absorb some of the most glorious singing to be heard anywhere in the world. With profound feelings, with faith, hope, joy and sometimes sadness, the choirs, congregations, deacons, preachers and ushers would sing Black spirituals and gospel songs. They sang and played the music with such fervor they even as a small child, I cannot only hear it, but almost see it….I tried to put all of that feeling into Revelations.”


AAADT’s young dancers brought about the feelings that Alvin wanted, especially when they danced Revelations. While dancing to songs such as “I Been ‘Buked,” “Didn’t the Lord Deliver Daniel,” “Wade in the Water,” “Fix Me Jesus,” “Take me to the Water” and five other spiritual and gospel classics, they clearly showed what Alvin meant about feelings in his choreography. The feelings not only elicited a response from the dancers, but it also had many members of the mostly Black audience expressing their feelings while sitting in their seats.


Watching AAADT dance Revelations that evening last month was the 43rd time I have seen it. The first time was in 1968 when I attended a Black Weekend event at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. It was my first time seeing a modern dance company in action. After experiencing Alvin’s Revelations, I became a strong supporter and to this day I consider him one of the greatest cultural artists we have ever had.


Another quote from Alvin’s autobiography shows why we react that way. “I am not afraid to say that there’s not one song in Revelations that doesn’t hold listener’s interests. The songs are poetic and the rhythm that grows out of them is Black rhythm. The songs are truthful and a real coming together of music and ideas through dance. The songs also represent a coming together of many things in my head—of youthful energy and enthusiasm, of my concerns about projecting the Black image proudly….they reflect my own feelings about being pressed into the ground of Texas….” Those of us who experience Alvin’s Revelations have the same feeling.    


A. Peter Bailey is co-author of Revelations: The Autobiography of Alvin Ailey.


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