An American Treasure Returns to Houston

Members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Photo by Dario Calmese.

Ask anyone connected to dance to name their favorite moment from Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, and the answer will be different each time. There is the glorious burst of joy that fills the all-yellow ensemble in “Move, Members, Move,” and there’s the pulsating undulations and theatrical pageantry of “Take Me to the Water.” And then there are the instances of stunning imagery, like the promenade in the beginning duet set to “Fix Me, Jesus,” or the iconic central shape in the opening sequence, the arms of the dancers expanding open and out of the spine to the words of “I Been ’Buked.” 

For me, the “Pilgrim of Sorrow” trio is an arresting experience, one that transforms the contractions and lateral T’s of Ailey’s tutelage under Lestor Horton into heartfelt bursts of supplication. Revelations is one of those landmark dance works that blossoms with fresh wonder and newfound meaning with each viewing.

Houston audiences will once again be able to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform Revelations and additional works on February 18 at 7:30pm and February 19 at 2PM and 7:30PM at Jones Hall courtesy of the Society for the Performing Arts (SPA). The COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding, the famed company has been a regular of SPA’s programming for years. 

AAADT in a reimagining of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations at Wave Hill PGCC. Photo by Travis Magee.

The relationship between Houston and Ailey’s company is an important one, and a testament to the choreographer’s legacy. “Ailey was a Texan,” says SPA Meg Booth. “He was born a Texan, grew up in rural Texas, made it out to L.A., and created one of the largest contemporary companies in the country. And it’s the company with the largest internationally touring footprint.” It’s only fitting that Houstonians are able to annually engage with the brainchild of the dance wunderkind from Rogers, Texas. 

The landmark works of Ailey’s company still resonates today, and not just as artifacts, but as wellsprings for inspiration. “For me, his identity and life story resonates in a very profound way,” says Harrison Guy, founder and artistic director of Urban Souls Dance Company. “To see what he did and what he built as a Black gay man is both affirming and inspiring. His legacy will always be the continuum that lives in those that feel seen by his work and lived experience.”

During Ailey’s lifetime, he mounted a successful performing career in both L.A. and on Broadway. After taking over artistic directing duties from Lester Horton when his mentor unexpectedly died, he founded his own company in 1958. It was here that he began to mine his memories of rural Texas and the Black experience to create his early masterpieces, including Revelations. It’s easy to imagine the congregation sequence at the end of the piece as being transposed from Ailey’s lived experience, but the magic of Revelations is the universality of the spectrum of emotions that the dance conjures. For Booth, both of these facets are what make the company such an integral part of the American dance canon. 

“Alvin Ailey’s company has a commitment to preserving the uniqueness of African-American culture and Black culture,” says Booth. “His work also has the ability to capture the good, the bad, and the ugly, feelings of hope, strength, and the need for community. He had such an enthusiasm for life, and he was able to capture that what is necessary to the human experience.” It’s no surprise then that the company was named an American “cultural ambassador to the world” by a 2008 U.S. Congressional resolution. 

AAADT in a reimagining of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations at Wave Hill PGCC. Photo by Travis Magee.

But I would wager that the universal power of Revelations comes from its extraction of the deeply intimate. The carefully constructed, artfully detailed solo danced to “I Wanna Be Ready” in the second movement comes to mind. Those articulated hinges, pushing the body off the ground to release and carve back into it, suggest an inner preparation for survival in both the physical and psychic realms. 

New audiences find themselves in the work every year, and according to Guy, it’s because of changing social tides. “The repertoire is relevant today because the world is finally catching up to what he has always known, he says. “And that is that Blackness is a universal experience that will reach and touch anyone that is willing to engage it.”

Houston, like other major markets, is just now stepping out from under the shadows of the Omicron surge. For those still hesitant to return to in-person events, Booth assures that SPA’s COVID protocols are meant to safeguard all members of the performing arts community, including performers, staff, and patrons. All audience members must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, and must wear masks for the duration of the performance. 

Booth, who watched the company backstage at the Kennedy Center with Barack and Michelle Obama in attendance on their first date night during his presidency, describes the vitality of live art. “There is a palpable sense of energy between audience members and performers that doesn’t exist by viewing from a screen,” she says. “You want to be in the room, to see it happen. The performing arts are such an exchange of humanity. And you can applaud and give standing ovations with your mask on. That doesn’t change.” 

For tickets and more information, visit www.spahouston.org

About the Author

Adam Castañeda is a dancer and arts administrator in Houston, Texas. He is the Executive and Artistic Director of the Pilot Dance Project, a non-profit arts organization with the mission to empower and transform communities through innovative dance, theater, and visual art. With his company he has performed in evening-length works by Ashley Horn, jhon r. stronks, Jennifer Mabus, Jaime Walne-Fruge, and Heather VonReichbauer. When not with the Pilot Dance Project, he enjoys performing with Suchu Dance/Jennifer Wood.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Top