Bahamian professional dancer Courtney Celeste Spears is coming to a stage close to home. She will be dancing in Alvin Ailey’s iconic work “Revelations” and Jamar Roberts’ new piece “Holding Space” in Miami.
The Ailey company will perform February 25-26 at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
“Holding Space” premiered at Ailey’s City Center Season in December. Against a backdrop of civil unrest and our relentless threat upon the natural world, we continue to grapple with the reality of a world that seems to be crumbling beneath our feet. According to the Ailey website, “Holding Space” examines the ways in which we are taking care. It asks: in what ways we can collectively accommodate one another to better traverse this new and unprecedented terrain? As a society, how can we do the transformative work of holding space at a time that feels both wrecked and malleable?
“Holding Space” boldly envisions a new way of being. A vision that requires radical humility and the willingness to share the powerful gift of presence. The work itself functions as a container, a sacred space created to give shape to, and hold the complex emotions of, this moment. At its core, it is a work about healing and the quest for sustainable pathways toward wholeness.
In a behind the scenes chat, Roberts, Ailey’s resident choreographer, said he remembers reading someone referring to “Holding Space” as being like the radical act of presence – being there for someone during a time of stress, anxiety or grief.
“So, I guess it’s a piece essentially about healing. The thing that brought me to the music is sort of the thing that sort of brought me to the piece as a whole, which was wanting to do something different – make something that felt fresh and that felt new.”
Roberts said working on the piece in which Spears dances, during the pandemic, was one of the hardest things.
“In our studios, we were allowed to dance within squares, six feet from one another, so I kind of was playing on the words ‘holding space’. The way the dancers move on the floor is structured by those actual squares here at the Ailey City Group Theater.”
The set is sort of in a rectangular-square-type environment that feels very much enclosed and sort of like a confessional. Roberts took that space and surrounded it in light which automatically gives a high-tech futuristic look.
“The space in itself is actually breathing and moving and living along with the dance,” he said.
“There is also a cube that’s involved; the cube is sort of a metaphor for many things – quarantine, being confined in a small space…if you were to, say, look at an apartment building, you see the windows and different people living in the apartment building, but the cube is sort of like taking a magnifying glass and sort of going deeper into just one apartment unit and sort of like seeing what that experience is like, experiencing one person out of the whole.”
Roberts said he thinks art sort of illuminates the parts of people’s lives that they tend to forget when they get lost and wrapped up in their work and our worries.
“So, if anything…maybe if not directly, the arts is sort of doing a major thing in helping us move forward. Indirectly, I think, spiritually, I think it’s doing other work, and maybe that will help influence some of the decisions that we make, the more we’re exposed to art. Then, our response is softer, lighter, more loving.”
Spears also dances in “Revelations” which features African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs and holy blues. Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations” fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul.
“Revelations” is said to be more than just a popular dance work – and that it has become a cultural treasure, beloved by generations of fans.
Seeing “Revelations” for the first time, or the hundredth, it is said, can be a transcendent experience, with audiences cheering, singing along and dancing in their seats from the opening notes of the plaintive, “I Been ‘Buked”, to the rousing “Wade in the Water” and the triumphant finale, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham”.
Ailey has said that one of America’s richest treasures was the African-American cultural heritage – “sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful”.
“Revelations”, an enduring classic, is a tribute to that tradition, born out of the choreographer’s “blood memories” of his childhood in rural Texas and the Baptist Church. But since its premiere in 1960, the ballet has been performed continuously around the globe, transcending barriers of faith and nationality, and appealing to universal emotions, making it the most widely-seen modern dance work in the world.
Robert Battle, Ailey’s artistic director, on the Ailey page, speaks to what “Revelations” means for him. He said seeing “Revelations” in some ways was everything he ever knew growing up, overcoming adversity of some type.
Dancer Hope Boykin said “Revelations” takes you on a journey from struggle through surrender to salvation.
Bahamians wanting to take in Spears live with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, can do so at the shows scheduled for February 25-26. Tickets range between $25 and $125.
The Arsht Center, based on guidance from national and local health officials, requires masks and proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Guests may volunteer proof of vaccination in lieu of a negative test. The event will be seated at full capacity.