Stage curtains, detailed wall trimmings, and subtle, bulb lighting all create the golden aura of the South Loop’s beloved Auditorium Theatre. A packed house of all ages—from young girls in gowns to adult men in suit coats—step across plush-red carpet to get to their seats for the chance to see AILEY REVEALED.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s performances, spanning four days, features a different line up each night, with one commonality between them: Alvin Ailey’s 1960 smash hit Revelations being performed at the close of the show.
Revelations’ storyline is one that transcends time and culture, the number of people who flocked to the performance only solidifies its cultural importance all these years later.
In Revelations, the music—many songs which are new arrangements of classic gospel or spiritual songs—join the ensemble members on stage as a script would in a play. Among others, we hear Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, Wade in the Water, and Sinner Man —all which are fast-paced. The dancers run barefoot across the stage carrying banners, streamers, even umbrellas. We sway our bodies back and forth and tap our shoes to the momentum on stage.
Pilgrims of Sorrow, the opener of Revelations, features dancers dressed in simple, thin clothing all with a brown, tan, and orange hue. The backdrop—a large wall-like screen that reflects intense colored lighting—matches the color coordination with consuming lights of deep orange, gold, and brown.
There is a hard transition in the second movement, Take Me To the Water, from warm tones to cool ones, as the backdrop and overhead lighting turns blue, white, and purple. With dancers dressed in all white, carrying onto stage with them ribbons and umbrellas of white as well. We feel calmed in this moment, despite the music being in a higher tempo. The theme of water, is expressed by the dancers’ fluid, almost jellyfish-like movements, as well as banners of blue which they run across the stage, as dancers figuratively wade into the water.
Then the finale, Move, Members, Move—with dancers dressed in proper Sunday attire of yellows and browns, while the backdrop is purple with a large orange sun reflected in the center. Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham booms out of the speakers, the partnered-by-gender ensemble stands on the edge of the stage, smiling and dancing with us. We stand in ovation, only for them to continue the dance—as our swaying bodies and clapping-in-rhythm hands join with them like back-up dancers.
Revelations is, literally, a breathtaking experience. Sunk into our seats, small gasps or a quiet “Wow” can be heard coming from the audience. This reviewer even felt a surge of tears as company member Clifton Brown performed the famous solo scene to the song I Wanna Be Ready. He is pleading with the heavens to only take him when he is ready, fearing he is not yet. An all-black, void-like background, save for the single spotlight on Brown—who is dressed in all white—brings an intensity and seriousness to the auditorium as the words, “I wanna be ready to put on my long white robe” rings about the room.
Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater Dances Life and Death
Revelations was the finale to a show that otherwise spoke to the reality of life—Busk, a dance about what it takes to make money to survive—and death—in Ode, speaking to the effects of gun violence.
The former is, in this reviewer’s opinion, more straightforward than the others as far as theme goes. Buskers, or street performers, are dressed in all-black, baggy garb using only an overturned hat as a prop. As the buskers become more seemingly desperate—looking wide-eyed at passersby, pleading with their hands for spare change—the tempo of the music heightens as their movements become more frantic.
At one point, a woman takes the top-half of her clothing off before dancing alone under the spotlight. It starts smooth while she moves her body from side to side, but as the music quickens, and the sound of metal coins can be heard dropping and clinging, she jumps up and down in rhythm, excitement coursing through her whole body.
In contrast, Ode, the following movement, is entirely somber and slow. Six men wearing only loose, beige pants enter in a rush to different points of the stage. Trust and fear is written across their faces as they move far away from each other but gradually entrust their bodies to one another. Tenderly hugging one another, falling into each others' arms, and even crowding around as one of them collapses to the ground, they show the vulnerability they all experience. This image is made complete by the massive, cascading net behind them adorned with brightly colored flowers. As the show progresses, lighting transitions on the net, giving the illusion of time passing.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater expresses the rawest of human emotions, bringing them to the stage ardently and as if they were holding our hands, whispering something in our ears. When they return to Auditorium Theatre next year, make time for this performance. Put aside busy schedules and appointments, and witness the work of one of the greatest minds to touch dance.
Hope Boykin, Jeroboam Bozeman, Clifton Brown, Khalia Campbell, Patrick Coker, Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Ghrai DeVore-Stokes, Solomon Dumas, Samantha Figgins, James Glimer, Vernard J. Gilmore, Jacqueline Green, Jacquelin Harris, Michael Jackson, Jr., Yazzmeen Laidler, Yannick Lebrun, Renaldo Maurice, Corrin Rachelle Mitchell, Chalvar Monteiro, Akua Noni Parker, Danica Paulos, Belén Indhira Pereyra, Jessica Amber Pinkett, Miranda Quinn, Jamar Roberts, Kanji Segwa, Glenn Allen Sims, Linda Celeste Sims, Courtney Celeste Spears, Constance Stamatiou, Jermaine Terry, Christopher R. Wislon, Brandon Wooldridge.
Alvin Ailey (Founder), Robert Battle (Artistic Director), Matthew Rushing (Associate Artistic Director), Judith Jamison (Artistic Director Emerita), Ronni Favors (Rehearsal Director), Bennet Rink (Executive Director).
About the Author:
Margaret Smith is a writer, editor, and critic achieving her B.A. from Columbia College Chicago. Having migrated from small-town Illinois, she now dwells in Chicago with a curious eye for art and a penchant for commentary. When not putting pen to paper, you might catch her about the city sipping coffee and filling in crossword puzzles.