When I’m trying to explain to people what I think is grand and noble about movement, I say that the reason it is our most valuable connector as human beings is because that person onstage, who has a body similar to ours, is using that body in proxy for us. That kind of transference and connection is a very poetic way of saying something that I think the doctor’s given his life to understanding: how an idea about movement can actually be felt. This fact is the way that I’ve been able to deal with issues of identity. And the making of art, the sharing of it, is in some ways — healing sounds way too sentimental — but it bridges the gap between individuals. When I read some of Dr. Sacks’s meditations on how the brain works, in a way he demystifies these things that I have a feeling about. But in another way he encourages me to look with more courage at the physical world.
While editing a post on Rosh Hashanah, women, and sealed spaces for On Being, I found myself enchanted by this choreography set to Ani DiFranco’s “Splinter.” Makes you feel good and peaceful, doesn’t it?
Choreographer Alvin Ailey’s “Blood Memories”: Revelations Turns 50
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Revelations, the choreographic masterpiece of the late Alvin Ailey. The dance tells the story of the African-American experience and the struggle to resist and transcend oppression seeded by slavery and arrive at a collective liberation as a people.
Since its New York City debut in 1960, Revelations has been performed in 71 countries on six continents. The musical score features traditional spirituals — some of them echoing songs Joe Carter sang for us, including “Wade in the Water” and “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?”
In “Celebrating Revelations at 50,” Alvin Ailey and artistic director Judith Jamison reflect on the meaning, spiritual roots, and enduring legacy of this dance work. As Ailey describes:
“The first dances I ever made were what I like to call ‘blood memories.’ My roots are also in the gospel churches of the South where I grew up. Holy blues. Paeans to joy. Anthems to the human spirit.”
In the finale of its concluding suite “Move Members Move!” the female dancers are outfitted in their Sunday church best with long yellow dresses, matching fans, and elegant hats. As company member Briana Reed explained to The New York Times, Ailey dancers are trained to hold their hands and elbows in very specific ways: “not by your hip, like you’re being sassy, but up near your ribs, so that it gives the upper body a more dignified carriage.”
The significance of dignity is something Joe Carter spoke about too. The spirituals provided a path for expressing and claiming one’s dignity within the constraints of a demeaning, all-encompassing racist social system. As Joe Carter tells it, they helped slaves to articulate hope through song:
“[T]hey were the expression of the great pain and the sorrow. But at the same time, they were always looking upward. They were always reaching. There was always some level of hope, as opposed to the concept of the blues. The blues was just singing about your troubles, and there was no hope. But there’s always the glory hallelujah someplace saying, ‘Oh, and on that glory hallelujah, then we fly.’”
Joe Carter’s voice carries forward through the words of Judith Jamison describing Ailey’s artistic vision for the rousing concluding phrase of Revelations:
“He understood about when someone would chug down the aisle because they had that spirit going through them. They weren’t just doing a dance. They actually felt something. And it was their great faith, and their great belief. We are joyous in that we see hope from despair. Always. It is never-ending hope.”
(photo: Ailey Archives)
Moving to Think
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
Listening to neuroscientist Adele Diamond’s conversation with Krista, I couldn’t help but think of the talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson has written several books on education, the arts, and creativity, and he’s on our “big list” of potential future guests.
One thing Diamond mentions is a lifelong love of dance, which brought to mind Robinson’s story about Gillian Lynne, who’s best known for choreographing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. He tells the story about how Lynne’s “learning disorder” turned out to be her life’s calling (jump to 15:15 in the video for the story, or read the transcript below):
“… Gillian and I had lunch together one day and I said, ‘Gillian how did you get to be a dancer?’ And she said it was interesting; when she was at school she was really hopeless. And the school in the thirties wrote to her parents and said, ‘We think Julian has a learning disorder.’ She couldn’t concentrate, she was fidgeting. I think now they’d say she had ADHD, wouldn’t you? But this was the 1930’s and ADHD hadn’t been invented, you know, at this point, so it wasn’t an available condition, you know. People weren’t aware they could have that.
Anyway, she went to see this specialist in this oak-paneled room and she was there with her mother and she was led and sat on this chair at the end. And she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school.
And at the end of it — because she was disturbing people and her homework was always late and so on, a little kid of eight — in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said ‘I’ve listened to all these things your mother has told me. I need to speak to her privately.’ So he said, ‘Wait here. We’ll be back. We won’t be very long,’ and they went and left her. But as they went out of the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk, and when they got out of the room, he said to her mother, ‘Just stand and watch her.’ The minute they left the room she said she was on her feet moving to the music and they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, ‘You know, Mrs. Lynn, Julian isn’t sick — she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.’
I said, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘She did. I can’t tell you, sir, how wonderful it was. We walked into this room and it was full of people like me; people who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.’”