Rocka My Soul
Whenever I invite a dance friend to see an Ailey performance with me, they always say something along the lines of, “I love Ailey! But do I really want to watch Revelations again?” Maybe because the piece is so iconic, performed so often—in 55 years, it’s been seen by more than 23 million people—many dancers assume it’s just an overdone crowd-pleaser. Maybe they remember liking it, but since so many people (even non-dancers!) like it, they figure it can’t really have all that much depth. Or maybe they think about the old-fashioned style and question whether they’ll get anything out of sitting through it yet again.
Last night I brought Dance Magazine College Guide editor Jen Roit to Ailey’s opening night gala, and predictably, when I mentioned that Revelations was on the program, she asked, “How long is that again?” I told her not to worry.
During the intermission before it came on, we started talking about yesterday’s shooting in San Bernadino. As much as it disgusted me, it didn’t surprise me—which made me even more disgusted. I started getting worked up about it as I explained this to Jen when the curtain went down and shut me up.
Photo by Paul Kolnik
On came Revelations. Earlier in the gala, honorary chair Chadwick Boseman had talked about how healing the piece is, how it starts by exploring the deepest grief in the soul, yet celebrates hope. This was at the top of my mind as I listened to lyrics like “There is trouble all over this world” and “Fix me, Jesus” sung live. It made me think about the incredible grief that the families of those 14 victims must have been feeling at that moment. The dancers expressed this anguish so powerfully with their bodies—Linda Celeste Sims’ slow extension into a layout was so beautifully full of pain and yearning that it made my eyes well up. Her body moved like a prayer crying out for help.
Part of what still gets me about Revelations is how the Ailey dancers perform it with such complete, unbridled commitment every single time. After doing the same choreography night after night (they’ll dance it more than 20 times this month alone), baring their souls and giving their all to the piece’s roller coaster of emotions, you’d think that they’d eventually calm down a little. But they never do. I don’t understand how it’s physically possible to put so much into the same choreography so many times. Maybe this is why some dancers question whether it’s worth watching again—you’d assume they couldn’t perform it so full-out yet again, and a half-hearted rendition of Revelations would be worthless. A piece that’s an anthem to the human spirit needs 100 percent of the performers’ humanity and spirit.
Demetia Hopkins-Greene and Akua Noni Parker. Photo by Gert Krautbauer, courtesy Ailey.
And last night, as always, the Ailey dancers brought it. Once the dark opening numbers gave way to the water section, where the dancers’ torsos rippled as smoothly as a river during a Southern baptism, I was right there with them, ready for the healing, ready to move forward. And by the time the jubilant rhythms of “Rocka My Soul” shook the house, I had a hard time sitting still. I wanted to dance. I wanted to thank the dancers onstage for giving so much of themselves. I wanted those families of the victims to be in the audience with us so that they could experience even a fraction of the hope and glee I was feeling at that moment.
As the curtain went down, Jen turned to me with a giant grin on her face. She pronounced: “So worth it!”