Revelations (Alvin Ailey)

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Revelations performed by Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in 2011

Revelations is the signature choreographic work of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It was first produced by Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in New York City, New York on January 31, 1960. Revelations tells the story of African-American faith and tenacity from slavery to freedom through a suite of dances set to spirituals and blues music.


Ailey intended for the dance to be the second part of a larger, evening-length survey of African-American music which had been begun in 1958 with his work Blues Suite though this was never fully realized. At its premiere, the piece initially had 15 sections, a live vocal chorus, and was an over an hour in duration, and included 2 soloists. Sections were removed as the work evolved, and an extensive tour sponsored by the U.S. Department in 1962 forced Ailey to commit the music for Revelations to recording. The dance then solidified into the three-part format seen today. The original score included parts for guitar, percussion and violin and voice. The piece was expanded to include parts for keyboards, drums and electric bass.

Ailey did not dance in the world premiere, but as early company personnel shifted, he performed some of its group sections as solos.

Revelations is divided into three sections "Pilgrim of Sorrow", "Take Me to the Water" and "Move Members, Move"

Pilgrim of Sorrow[edit]

The opening section of Revelations. Ailey described this section as "songs that yearn for deliverance, that speak of trouble and of this world's trials and tribulations." The mood is reflected in unique gestures with heads bowed down and forward and heavy bodies reaching powerfully upward. The sombre music and the lighting effects (by lighting designer Nicola Cernovitch) and brown and skin toned costuming help with this. In "I've Been Buked!!" nine dancers work in hushed accord, performing a ritual of communal introspection. In "didn't my lord deliver Daniel", the second part of the piece, the trio of two women and one male are showing their pain they have faced through sudden pulsing of the upper torso, and contractions and releases. The "Fix Me Jesus" duet conveys the strength of faith between a woman and her minister, through a subtle unfolding of leanings, balance and leg extensions that speak of trust and conviction of belief.

Take Me to the Water[edit]

The second section features an enactment of a ceremonial baptism. A large group of dancers clad in white sweep onto the stage as baptismal agents—a tree branch to sweep the earth and a white cloth to cleanse the sky—lead a processional to the stream of purification. To the strains of "Wade in the Water" a devotional leader bearing a large umbrella baptizes a young couple at a river, represented by yards of billowing blue silk stretched across the stage. A raucous ceremony is followed by the meditative solo "I Wanna Be Ready", which communicates a devout man's preparations for death. Created by Ailey in collaborations with its original dancer James Truitte, the solo builds on exercises derived from the Horton modern dance technique.

Move Members, Move[edit]

The final section celebrates the liberating power of 20th-century gospel music. This section includes the propulsive men's trio "Sinner Man" and the famous "Yellow" section, set in a southern Baptist rural church. Eighteen dancers in yellow costumes enact a church service with fans and stools. Stretched across the stage with torsos proudly lifted, the dancers embody the joy of faith contained by complex stepping patterns performed in unison.

Original Dancers[edit]

Joan Derby, Merle Derby, Jay Fletcher, Gene Hobgood, Natheniel Horne, Herman Howell, Minnie Marshall, Nancy Redi and Corene Richardson, Don Martin.

External links[edit]