Discuss the influences which affected the development of the movement style of a practitioner from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. You should refer to appropriate examples from Revelations to support your answer. Alvin Ailey’s movement style has been shaped and moulded constantly as he moved through his life. Whether it was personal experiences or key dancers he worked with, each individual story is told through his works and tells the story of Ailey’s life. Ailey’s early experiences had a profound impact on his later life. He was raised in Texas by only his mother, since his father left when he was still a baby.
They had little money and times were hard enough moving from town to town while race and economy were big problems; poverty was rife and employment scarce. Ailey would have been frequently separated from white children his age. This resulted in Ailey’s work being focused and centred on the acceptance of black dancers and making everyone feel equal. ‘All my work, to some extent or other, is a cry against racism, against the injustice of that period. ’-1988. The struggles he faced in early life lead to key movements in his productions; they are often repeated motifs that symbolise meaning.
His work ‘Revelations’ shows his journey clearly through the movement content and in several sections we can see links to slavery and imprisonment, this is all interlinked with the treatment of black people that he had experienced from a very early age. The movements sometimes consist of clasping hands that look like digging and controlled struggle movements that show torment and suffering. He thought that communicating with young people was easier through movement rather than dance because dancing was something that everyone could do and it was expressive, it allows people to show their emotions without creating disagreements or violence.
In an interview with the New York Times, Ailey defined his artistic creed as follows: ‘I am trying to show the world we are all human beings, that colour is not important. That what is important is the quality of our work, of a culture in which the young are not afraid to take chances and can hold onto their values and self-esteem, especially in the arts and dance. ’ There are also many Christian and religious references in his work. As a young black American boy, Ailey and his mother would have attended church regularly.
His works have strong religious influences that are shown clearly. The theme of acceptance is paired with religious topics, as not only acceptance of black people was important to him but it also seems the acceptance by God. Religion being a huge part of his life and also his upbringing is clear in his work and it is obvious it has had a big influence in the movement. One of the pieces in ‘Pilgrim of Sorrow’ (a section from Revelations) is called ‘Fix Me Jesus’ and the movement clearly shows suffering at times, it appears controlled and rigid.
There are also lifts that constantly fall from a high position to a low one and lifts that show a cross shape that looks like a crucifix. Dancers running towards light on the stage also show how Ailey may have depended on God and his religion at times to deal with difficult stages in life. ‘Processional’ from ‘Take me to the Water’ is a piece centred on a baptism. It includes movements such as reaching up, body rippling, swaying movements, leg lifts and quick turning with corresponding level changes.
It is fast and up tempo and allows us to understand that this is a special occasion and represents the atmosphere at the baptism. There is also gospel music that they dance to which includes percussion, humming and harmonies – very common things in a religious black church. Key practitioners and people Ailey has worked with throughout his career have also had major influences on his style and movement techniques. His modern approach to dance blends elements from a range of sources. He first saw technique by Katherine Dunham on a school trip to watch the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo.
She had researched authentic African and Caribbean forms of dance and has fused them with ballet and jazz to make a distinctive new style that Ailey would later work on and adapt into his own work. ‘I saw black male dancers performing modern dance on stage for the first time… it was a very spiritual experience for me. ’ His friend Carmen encouraged Ailey to study with Graham Horton and he later became his student. He was encouraged to perform and experiment with choreography and in 1953 when Horton suddenly died of a heart attack Ailey took on the role to complete the works of their upcoming season, his first ever professional works.
He also worked in New York with Martha Graham and took classes in acting, singing and dancing. He then adopted Graham’s technique and later went on to include it in his own performances. Throughout the whole of revelations we can clearly see these influences in technique, these include a hybrid use of the torso – elongated and tilted (Horton) contrasting with Graham’s contractions (especially in ‘Fix me Jesus’) and Dunham’s use of the spine and pelvis in African styles.
Use of balletic, lyrical gestures, Horton’s rigid arms and Dunham isolations can all be seen in ‘I’ve been Buked’. Ailey’s life tells a story of hardship and suffering that is portrayed in all of his works to some extent, providing choreographic influences. The people he met and worked with in the story of his life are his main technical influences. Both are shown clearly and effectively in the development of movement content in his work.