Posted February 16, 2017

Three Grade 2 students took time to discuss their Alvin Ailey experience last week. "The best part was learning how he lived," said Bella Matthews (2B), who described his choreography as "mostly soulful, spiritual and soulful."

Throughout last week, Grade 2 students studied the famous choreographer Alvin Ailey, danced with members of his Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company, and visited with and watched the company perform, first at the Kennedy Center, then right here in our Gymnasium and Performance Center. The week concluded with Upper School students joining the Lower School assembly. The crowd rose to its feet as performers from the AAADT taught the assembled students some steps from Alvin Ailey's most famous dance, "Revelations."

Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) began creating dances as a choreographer in 1953. According to the AAADT website, Mr. Ailey "drew upon his 'blood memories' of Texas, the blues, spirituals, and gospel as inspiration, which resulted in the creation of his most popular and critically acclaimed work, 'Revelations.'" In 2008, a U.S. Senate Resolution commended the AAADT for "50 years of service as a cultural ambassador of the United States to the world, by bringing world-class American modern dance to an estimated 21,000,000 people around the globe."

Three students from 2B reflected on the experience:

"We learned what a choreographer is and what kind of dances Alvin Ailey liked to do," said Mosie Pennington.

"The best part was learning how he lived," said Bella Matthews. "Even though people treated him badly, he said, 'Of course you can dance with us.' He wanted everyone to be able to dance. All Black and white people could dance with him."

"There were three different parts to 'Revelations'," said Sinan Elekdag. "First it was great sorrow, then it was surrender, then it was joy."

The students reported that they especially loved two songs that were part of the "Revelations" performance at the Kennedy Center, reprised on campus, "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham" and "Wade in the Water."

"We practiced the basics of what we saw in the performance," said Bella. "One of the dances we did was to the song 'Wade in the Water.' At the Kennedy Center performance, dancers moved across a stage where people held sheets and it looked like water. It was like double jump-roping," said Sinan. "It was just like actual water," said Bella. Mosie added, "It was calm like water and then rough like water."

While AAADT has partnerships with a number of schools in New York City, their 2014 visit to St. Patrick's was the first time that members of the company worked with students in Washington, D.C. That visit was the beginning of a successful partnership and an annual event that has become a highlight of the Grade 2 literacy curriculum, where it ties in with the exploration of the Pinkney family of children's authors and illustrators.

Grade 2 students read the book Alvin Ailey, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. The book, of course, profiled the late iconic dancer and choreographer, whose dance company still performs around the world—and, as luck would have it—is performing at the Kennedy Center this month.

AAADT, sometimes referred to as “Alvin Ailey,” was established in 1958 and, by 1962, was so successful that it was selected as part of John F. Kennedy’s “President's Special International Program for Cultural Presentations.” Through this program, the company gained worldwide acclaim. In the ensuing years, the group became one of the premier dance companies and dance education organizations in the country.

This experience provides an opportunity for students to learn about an important piece of American cultural heritage, the rich history in which Alvin Ailey’s compositions are steeped, and the joy of movement.

For a glimpse of Alvin Ailey's "Revelations," here are some links:
Revelations Medley, "Wade in the Water," and "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham."

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