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Alvin Ailey: Transformative Art Through Storytelling

Jess Smith

Alvin Ailey Revealed review

Alvin Ailey didn’t ask for a seat at the table after realizing African Americans were the trees that the table was created from. African Americans aren’t just the blueprints for expression through art, the African American experience is expressionism and in 1958 he brought black expressionism through the medium of dance to the forefront with the creation of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Black expressionism through the most authentic lens

In 2020, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has become a major staple in not only the dance community, but also the modernized art community as a whole. Shaping the precedent for modern dance since his iconic performance “Revelations”, Ailey has been a name on the tip of every dance connoisseurs tongue, not only in New York but across the planet. Traveling the world for the 2020 tour, Ailey Revealed. The dance company broke Ailey Revealed into three acts with two intermissions.

One of the standout pieces was “Ode”. With choreography straight from the mind of Jamar Roberts, this emotionally driven piece focused on innocent victims of gun violence. The dancers depicting harsh but swift movements and minimalistic backdrops with low lighting evoke emotion and reflective thoughts. Costumes were minimal with the muscular male dancers clothed in simple linen pants.

Experimentalism with a story

The most experimental piece within Ailey Revealed was the memorable, conversation-starter, “Greenwood.” This avant-garde expression of a tragic event could have a slew of different interpretations due to the harsh imagery and idealized choreography. However, Donald Byrd’s vision was a portrayal of a little known racially motivated massacre in the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This area had a reputation as being one of the most affluent African American communities in the country and that was all changed on May 30, 1921 when an African American was arrested for attempted assault on a teenage white girl in an elevator.

No one knew what actually happened in the elevator, but after a newspaper reported the incident a massive white mob went to the neighborhood and viciously killed at least 300 black people and burned the neighborhood leaving another 10,000 black people homeless.

The instrumental rattled with hurtling synths that thundered and crashed as dancers in metallic full body costumes with mesh coverings collided and thrashed with the manic sounds. Sarah Daley-Perdomo and Vernard J. Gillmore portrayed the two people in the incident with them performing each scenario that could have happened in the elevator. The creak of a door closing indicated the transition to another scenario with each one getting more frenzied and manic in the imagining of a completely unknown event.

Although the incident may not have been known nor recognized due to the interpretive nature and presentation of the performance, art is meant to incite thought and plant a seed of curiosity, which is exactly what this piece accomplished. However, the portrayal of the mob could have been made a bit clearer through costumer, Doris Black’s vision.

Full circle to Alvin Ailey’s original vision

The show’s finale was a reworking of Alvin Ailey’s original vision for his legendary piece “Revelations.” Fast-paced choreography to upbeat versions of historical spirituals was seen in the three dance scenes with “Pilgrim of Sorrow”, “Take Me To the Water”, and “Move, Members, Move”. “Pilgrim of Sorrow” had a gorgeous number in “Fix Me, Jesus” with elongated lines and symmetrical emotionally powered choreography dueling between Sarah Daley-Perdomo and Jamar Roberts.

Although this piece was most likely put at the end to show the roots of Alvin Ailey’s powerhouse company, I think it would have been more effective to begin the entire show with “Revelations” and show the progression and transformation of the company after his vision was cemented.

To see the show yourself look at the 2020 tour schedule HERE.

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