Revelations Choreographer: Alvin Ailey Revelations, made in 1960, is based on Alvin Ailey’s childhood memories of worshipping at his Baptist church in Texas. The music is a compilation of African American spirituals.
About Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Alvin Ailey created his dance company in 1958. His intention was to make new and expressive modern dance works based on African American culture and heritage. To make the company’s repertory (selection of works) varied, he included pieces by new and established choreographers. Over its 50-year history, the company has performed for almost 20 million people worldwide, and earned the reputation of one of the most popular American dance companies. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center was founded in 1969, and today over 3,500 students from every part of the world receive training there.
After Ailey’s death in 1989, Judith Jamison, one of Ailey’s leading dancers, became the
company’s director. Today, Jamison continues Ailey’s commitment to bringing dance to all people.
About Modern Dance and Ailey’s Choreography
Modern dance developed in America nearly 100 years ago as a reaction against the rules and structure of ballet. In ballet, dancers appear weightless and perform elegant steps that
were created hundreds of years ago. Modern dancers embrace gravity and create choreography from everyday movements like walking, skipping, running, and falling.
the most meaning for him and put them together in a dance. His unique choreographic style was influenced by three modern choreographers—Lester Horton, Katherine Dunham and Martha Graham.
• Lester Horton’sdancers used as much space as possible while turning, bending, and jumping across large distances.
• Katherine Dunham incorporated Caribbean, African and American cultural dance styles to create unique movements.
• Martha Graham’s dance technique was built on contraction (becoming smaller and more
pressed together) and release—movements that imitate the act of breathing. In a contraction, the dancer exhales and curves the spine; in a release, the dancer inhales and lift s the chest.
The songs used in Revelations are called spirituals. These are folk songs describing personal religious experiences. When Africans were brought to America as slaves, they lost their traditional music as well as their freedom. They added African chants, rhythms and harmonies to the Christi an songs they learned and created spirituals. Today, people sing spirituals to raise their spirits, strengthen their faith, and create a sense of community.
There are two kinds of spirituals: • Sorrow songs are sung slowly and sadly and tell of the heavy burden of slavery and the belief that better days are coming.
• Jubilees are faster, upbeat songs based on Bible stories celebrating victory and joy. Spirituals came to serve many purposes for the slaves: • Work—singing spirituals made work less boring and set a rhythm for actions like picking or digging. Slave owners liked the singing because it made the slaves more productive.
• Worship—At night, after the owners were asleep, the slaves would go out into the woods
(their invisible church) and worship. Spirituals were a big part of their religious ceremony.
• Entertainment—At the end of a long day, slaves would often sing spirituals for relaxation.
• Code Songs—Communication through spirituals, often helped slaves escape. For example, a hidden message in the song “Deep River” led to a meeting at the river. “Wade in the Water” warned an escaped slave to go into the river so bloodhounds couldn’t follow his scent.