Last night I was lucky enough to take my daughters to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at the Detroit Opera House. Fortunately for me, the AADT was able to add additional shows in Detroit after they had already left several weeks ago. When I got this 2nd chance I immediately purchased my tickets & decided to surprise my girls with this wonderful gift.
The evening started off by leaving home @ 530 to make our way to Union Street Saloon (Detroit) for dinner, where the meals are always good & the service is almost always bad (in my opinion, my friends beg to differ). We got to Union Street about 615 & it was not that busy, so I knew we could get out within a hour (the show started at 730) so that we could park & get our will call tickets.
Well last night was no exception to the bad service @ Union Street, our server Aaron was nice but slow as hell, I had to keep flagging him down for water, he only checked on us like once on his own & took forever to bring the bill & accept my payment. After all was said & done at the restaurant, it was 730, so yhea, we are late.
I made a mad dash past the Crack Heads panhandling outside the restaurant to the car &made it downtown, parked & got our tickets by 745 (I am out of breath by now from rushing). As we make our way into the Opera House, we were told that there was no late admittance to the show. Naturally, I had to talk my way out of this & was successful ads we got temporary seats in the upper balcony (yes the nose bleeds).
We walked in as the company performed “The Winter in Lisbon”, which was a poly-rhythmic emotional & dramatic piece. This piece was in four parts, the “Opening Theme” (which we missed), “San Sebastian”, “Lisbon” & “Manteca”. “Manteca” was definitely the crescendo in this piece & as it ended a massive image of Dizzy Gillespie appeared on stage which made the crowd more excited. The lights dim as the curtains close & the kids need to use the restroom.
At the intermission we went to look for our seats, and then I noticed that we actually had shitty seats. Since the show was not packed, we took it upon ourselves to get much better seats in the lower balcony. When the curtain came up, I was like hell yeah; our new seats were the bomb! The 2nd set was/is titled “Ife/My Heart”, which started off with an African prayer & solo dance performance that was very engaging, THEN the company performed to “My House – To My Father’s House” by Nikki Giovanni.
I had never heard this song/poem before & immediately fell in love with it as I watched the dancers leap like Gazelles on the African pains. I mean, the performers were so graceful & dynamic, that they did not even seem real, a figment of my imagination. My daughters where in awe during this segment, then it transitioned to a very urban tone as they were now dancing to Ursula Rucker’s “Release”. This segment was truly off the hook & symbolic as they appeared to me to be simulating the World Trade Center attack & urban life/plight all at one time. I think I shouted out “YES” as I was wrapped up in the moment. The lights dim as the curtains close & I catch my breath.
So after a brief pause, the show started back up with the “Solo” segment, which kinda reminded me of the Nut Cracker (actually this is a double-entendre because this segment was just the guys & they were in these skin tight pants & all you saw was nuts). I think the entire crown tripped on this piece as I listened to the whispers around me. The guys were doing this penguin-esque type maneuver that made me and many others laugh. Each performer had the stage to himself for several moments then another performer danced onto he stage as the initial one made a dramatic exit, time & time again.
The crowd applauded several times though this piece as the performers were making these intense moves, jumps, turns, twist, gyrations. The lights dim as the curtains close & I need to use the restroom.
The final piece was something I actually saw on video last year in my AA Lit class taught by one of my She-roes: “Revelations”. When I saw it in class, I was like wow I would love to see it on stage & almost a year to the date later here I am. This piece to me was tribute to Negro spirituality & how we have overcame adversities & will face the future using our faith as our guide. “Revelations” was developed in 1960 by Alvin Ailey Himself & is a staple of the Dance Company. My favorite segments in “Revelations” were “Processional/Honor, Honor” & “Wade in the Water”.
Seeing the dancers make such a dynamic statement with simple stage props was simply amazing. “Wade in the Water” was really dramatic as one of the dancers appeared to be floating across the stage with a soft flowing umbrella with her flowing white dress as men carried around these poles with waving feathers, & then there was the water itself. The water (blue fabrics) moved as though they were actual something Gaia made herself. Another highlight of “Revelations” was “Sinner Man”, which depicted a lone man trapped in hell, running from the Devil as he looked for a way out.
Revelations consists of the parts:
- Pilgrim of Sorrow – 3 song/dance parts
- Take me to the Water – 3 song/dance parts
- Move, Members, Move – 4 song/dance parts
As things came to an end, the company jokingly took just about 8 bows. Fist in couples, then the men, then the women, then all again, then the main performers… The lights dim as the curtains close, I catch my breath & dread the long drive home.
As I do with any cultural event etc, I charged the kids to draw a picture about their favorite part of the show in addition to writing a journal that corresponds with their picture.
Alvin Ailey Bio
Born in poor, rural Rogers, Texas in 1931, Ailey was the child of Lula Elizabeth Cliff, and the handsome Alvin Ailey, whom she married at 16. She gave birth to Alvin Jr. two years later. He was, according to biographer Jennifer Dunning, “a big baby,” reluctant to walk on his own until he was more than 18 months old.
A few months later his father fled the marriage, returning some years on, but this time it was Lula who took off, moving herself and the child to Wharton, Texas, where the two of them picked cotton.
Alvin developed an early interest in art. In 1943 Alvin and his mother moved to Los Angeles.
It was in Los Angelas where Alvin’s eyes were opened to the world of contemporary art. Initially, he took dance classes from choreographer Katherine Dunham and later studied under Los Angeles dance teacher Lester Horton. While studying with Horton Alvin pursued college courses in the Romance languages. At various times Ailey was enrolled at UCLA, Los Angeles City College, and Berkeley. He studied authors like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Carson McCullers.
Alvin’s appetite for academics was probably why he was attracted to Horton’s choreography which consisted of theater pieces based on pictures by Paul Klee, poems by Garcia Lorca, music by Duke Ellington and Stravinsky, and even Mexican themes. When Lester Horton died in 1953, twenty-two year old Alvin was chosen to fill the shoes of his mentor. Alvin became the director and resident choreographer for the Lester Horton Dance Theater. Within one year Alvin choreographed three original dances for Horton’s company: Creation of the World, According to St. Francis, and Mourning Morning.
Alvin Ailey was gay and was a longtime lover of David McReynolds in the 1950s.
Ailey started his own dance company in 1958 featuring primarily African American dancers. He integrated his dance company in 1963. He also directed; one notable production was Langston Hughes’s Jericho-Jim Crow (1964).
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater popularized modern dance throughout the world with his international tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Because of these tours it is theorized that Ailey’s choreographical masterpiece Revelations is the most well-known and frequently seen modern dance performance.