The History of African American Culture in the Production of “Revelations” by Alvin Ailey

Revelations choreographed by Alvin Ailey and performed at the American Dance Theater in 1960 is a dance piece that is often considered a masterpiece or classic by many. It tells the story of African American culture and history throughout the United States along with the personal events of Ailey’s life.

It is a modern dance work that is very widely known in the world of dance and is able to appeal to a wide audience. Through the use of bodily movement, music, the strong subject matter relating to history, costumes and props, Revelations conveys the complexity of the culture associated with African American dance; it is able to resonate with everyone in a different way.

For this dance piece, Ailey chose to use traditional gospel and spiritual music, which I believe helped to further the message he as a choreographer was trying to convey to those watching. The music varies from very soft and fluid to more upbeat as the piece continues, changing in every section as his message in every section changes as well.

The songs he chose evoke emotions from those watching the performance as it makes you feel as if you were right there in a state of suspense, or joy, or reverence depending on which section of the dance you’re watching. It really helps to showcase all the different emotions and up and downs that happened throughout African American culture in the United States, at times it was sorrowful and horrid and at other times it was beautiful and uplifting.

This dance as many of Ailey’s other works heavily included ensemble dancing among other types of dance and movements as well. However, the ensemble dancing in this piece really served as a tool to encapture how the African American community binds together to form this strong sense of community and support.

This dance also includes many movements that involve twisting and stretching of the body, using both Horton and Graham technique as is also typical in Ailey’s works. This twisting and stretching and reaching up to the heavens conveyed the message of having to conform to all the mistreatments of society and wanting to stretch away and break free from all of that mistreatment and the reaching up to heaven and finding a spiritual connection to find hope and faith. Movement and gestures serve as an essential piece to again having Ailey’s message conveyed.

The subject matter of this dance is a very big one, being African American history and culture and having all those emotions and turmoils conveyed through a dance piece in order to give whoever is watching an insight into those time and those feelings. Ailey not only takes instances in history but he takes instances of his own life and his memories that put even more feeling and emotion into this piece. Regardless of one’s race, everyone is able to feel the emotion and the rawness of the dance and the person watching is almost transported into the world of the dance. Ailey’s overall message that ends up being conveyed is that through the struggles and some triumphs there always remained hope and community within each other.

The costumes throughout this piece are kept very minimalistic and simple, very flowy and neutral colors, besides the ending where the costumes are a bit more flashy and have a more upbeat nature to them, conveying a time of triumph and happiness. I believe Ailey’s intentions with these costumes and props being kept more simple at the beginning of the piece was to keep the focus on the story and the movements as he was trying to convey his story to the audience.

At the ending of the piece however, the more prominent costumes and props such as the fans serve to convey to the audience that in this section he is trying to convey more happiness and uplifting emotions of triumph. The costumes yet again serve as another tool that ties into the whole story and message Ailey is attempting to convey.

This piece is a work that is able to cross borders and is able to appeal to people not only in the United States but countries around the globe and can resonate a different meaning in the eyes of each individual. In my opinion, I believe Ailey did a great job in being able to use every aspect of this piece from choice of music to costumes to the actual gestures and movements and ties it all together in order to convey a whole story and make the audience feel.

This piece really gave me a new insight into African American culture and how there were these rollercoaster of emotions, highs and lows, but there is this deeply rooted faith that was always kept by the people and that was prevalent in everything they encountered and everything that they did. In terms of achieving his goal in conveying a story and the meaning behind it as well as history of African American Culture I think Ailey executed it very well and this piece is something that will stick with me.

Works Cited

  1. Revelations by Alvin Ailey. Accessed 16 November 2018.

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