Revelations - 50 Years in Pictures
Since its debut in 1960, Alvin Ailey's Revelations has moved audiences around the world through its powerful storytelling and soul-stirring music—evoking timeless themes of determination, hope, and transcendence. More people have seen Revelations than any other modern dance work, and it has been enjoyed by over 23 million people in 71 countries across six continents. This timeline depicts some key historical highlights and transformations throughout its 50-year history.
The Birth of a Classic
To create Revelations, Alvin Ailey drew inspiration from his "blood memories" of his childhood in rural Texas—memories of people, movement and music he heard growing up. When first choreographed, Revelations was performed with only six dancers and lasted over one hour.
In January 1960, Alvin Ailey and his small company of dancers premiered Revelations at the Kaufman Concert Hall of the 92nd Street Y. The end of the first performance was met with total silence, followed by a rousing standing ovation.
An International Tour and TV Appearance
Revelations—now trimmed to a half-hour version with 10 sections—is performed on television for the first time ever in the Lamp Under My Feet special on CBS.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is chosen to go on an extensive tour, and brings Revelations to Asia and Australia as part of President John F. Kennedy’s progressive “President’s Special International Program for Cultural Presentations.”
Judith Jamison Joins Ailey
Judith Jamison joins Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and is featured in Revelations for the next 15 years. "It set a tone for what is human in all of us, no matter where you come from," Jamison says of Revelations. "We've done that piece all over the world, and everyone understands exactly what it's about — it's humanity, it's triumph, and what it is to be human."
Judith JamisonPhoto by Andrew Eccles.
A Presidential Performance
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs for President Johnson at the White House.
Alvin Ailey sets Revelations on Ballet Folklorico for the Opening Ceremonies of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. This becomes the only performance of the ballet by a company other than Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater or Ailey II.
Revelations Alvin Ailey, Lucinda Ransom and Loretta Abbott in Revelations. Photo courtesy of The Ailey Archives
Ailey Presents Revelations on Boston TV
WGBH, a Boston public television station, sponsors a week of performances by the Company and videotapes Revelations, with Alvin Ailey providing on-camera narration before the dance.
A Rapturous Reception Abroad
As part of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's second State Department-sponsored tour, the Company visited North Africa, Europe and the then-USSR (a first for an American modern dance company since the days of Isadora Duncan). The Washington Post reports that the Company was kept onstage for 20 minutes of curtain calls after a sold-out opening night performance at Moscow’s Variety Theater.
“When we performed Revelations in Athens at the Herod Atticus, an amphitheater with six thousand seats, every [seat] was filled. It was an unforgettable experience to hear that many people screaming for twenty minutes at the curtain. They just loved the music; they were totally into it and that happens all over the world with this work. We had a big success in Russia, where all the rhythm and hand clapping is an integral part to their folk dances.” –Alvin Ailey
–Masazumi Chaya, Associate Director, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Los Angeles Times
More Dancers Added
"Revelations attained its most extravagant proportions during the mid-1970s when Ailey staged the dance to include a complement of nineteen dancers. The expansion of the ensemble magnified the dance's contours for viewing in the expansive space of the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center during the company's season there, 12-24 August 1975....Ailey's desire to connect concert dance to a larger African-American community drove him to contest traditional models of what concert dance could be. He adjusted the scale of Revelations to signal his company's viability as a major cultural representative..." —from Thomas DeFrantz's 2004 book Dancing Revelations
Jimmy Carter's Inaugural
In January 1977, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs an excerpt from Revelations at an inaugural concert for President Jimmy Carter at the Kennedy Center. The event, hosted by Hank Aaron and Sidney Poitier and featuring a spectacular Who’s Who of America's cultural and entertainment worlds, was broadcast on CBS-TV.
Revelations in China
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is the first modern dance company to go on a US government-sponsored tour of the People’s Republic of China since the normalization of Sino-American relations.
Kennedy Center Honors
Alvin Ailey receives The Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime contribution to American culture through the performing arts—the nation’s highest official distinction for creative artists. As part of the ceremony, Revelations is performed at the Opera House of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and subsequently telecast on a CBS special.
–Carmen De Lavallade, dancer, choreographer and Ailey friend since junior high, Los Angeles Times
Revelations Performed in Central Park
"Ailey In The Park" attracts 30,000 spectators, who congregate in New York City’s Central Park to see the live performance, including Revelations.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at the televised inaugural gala for President Bill Clinton, seen by 80 million viewers, and is featured on The Phil Donahue Show, reaching 18 million viewers.
Olympics Arts Festival
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs Revelations at the Olympics Arts Festival in Atlanta, GA.
A Commemoration Through Music
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater celebrates its 40th Anniversary. A two CD box set, containing the music of Revelations and other Ailey favorites, is released through V2 Records.
Revelations Audio CD Includes the following tracks:
- I Been 'Buked
- Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel
- Fix Me, Jesus
- Honor, Honor
- Wade in the Water
- I Wanna Be Ready
- Sinner Man
- The Day Is Past And Gone
- You May Run On
- Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham
- Ms. Judith Jamison - On Revelations
Two Major Marches
In celebration of Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation’s groundbreaking at The Joan Weill Center for Dance in New York City, students from The Ailey School parade to the future site in Revelations costumes.
Judith Jamison carries the Olympic torch in Salt Lake City, UT prior to the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs Company works, including Revelations, at the Olympic Arts Festival.
–Salt Lake Tribune
Honoring an African President
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at the White House State Dinner honoring President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya.
Ailey Immortalized in Special Stamp Series
The U.S. Postal Service issues a first class postage stamp honoring Alvin Ailey as part of the American Choreographers stamp series, which commemorates four visionary 20th century choreographers who left a profound mark on the language of dance. The stamp contains an image from the opening sequence of Revelations.
The Company Returns to RussiaAlvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to Russia, becoming the only American company to perform in the Stars of the White Nights Festival and the first modern dance company presented at the legendary Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.
The Ailey organization celebrates the official opening and public dedication of its new home, The Joan Weill Center for Dance, the nation’s largest facility dedicated to dance. As part of the dedication, a processional of Ailey School students dressed in Revelations garb march and dance to a jazz version of “Wade in the Water” performed by Ella Mitchell, Wycliffe Gordon and the Juilliard Jazz Ensemble.
–Garth Fagan, choreographer
Los Angeles Times
Ailey Archives to Library of Congress
The Library of Congress announces the donation of the Ailey archives—including many materials related to Revelations—to “the nation’s library,” to preserve and digitize them and then make them more widely available to future generations. According to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, it is “…a major achievement for the Library.”
–The New York Times
Voted Most Popular
Dance Magazine names Revelations one of “the most popular modern dance pieces of all time” in the “80 Momentous Dance Moments” of the magazine’s 80th Anniversary issue.
Revelations Returns to TelevisionAlvin Ailey American Dance Theater is the first concert dance company to perform on both ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, where they perform “Sinner Man" from Revelations.
In celebration of the Company's 50th anniversary and Ailey’s mission to bring dance back to the people, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater holds free summer performances (featuring Revelations) at venues in all five boroughs of New York City, performing for tens of thousands of people.
The Ailey organization creates special commemorative merchandise in celebration of the 50th anniversary including an Ailey Barbie® Doll in a costume from Revelations. This marks the first time a Barbie® Doll is inspired by a dance company.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater launches its five-week 50th Anniversary Season at New York City Center with a Golden Anniversary Gala with Honorary Chair and Honored Guest Oprah Winfrey, who declares to Entertainment Tonight: "
Alvin Ailey® American Dance Theater Barbie® doll, designed by Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison, is dressed in a flowing white lace costume worn in the “Wade in the Water” section of Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece Revelations.
The doll honors Alvin Ailey’s legacy, the remarkable vision of Judith Jamison, and the Comapany's mission to inspire and unite people of all backgrounds through the universal language of dance.
BARBIE and associated trademarks and trade dress are owned by Mattel, Inc. © 2008 Mattel, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
A 50th Anniversary Tour
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater kicks off its 26-city 50th Anniversary U.S. Tour in Washington, D.C. Newly-elected President Barack Obama opted to spend his first night out with his wife and daughters since taking office at an Ailey performance at the Kennedy Center. At the conclusion of Revelations, the First Family congratulated the dancers backstage.
Revelations at 50
On September 7, Michelle Obama hosted the White House Dance Series: A Tribute to Judith Jamison, an event honoring Ailey’s Artistic Director and placing a presidential spotlight on the dance world. A student workshop was held in the East Room where movements from Revelations are taught, and sections of the dance are performed and broadcast via live video stream online during the ceremony itself.
As part of its 2010 New York City Center Season, the Company celebrates 50 years of Revelations with special performances that include live music, an expanded cast of 50 dancers, Q&A sessions with the dancers, a short film with newly-recorded interviews and rarely-seen archival footage, and more.
Continuing the Legacy
You can help Ailey continue to spread the joy of Revelations.
U.S. Senate Resolution
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution “recognizing the artistic and cultural contributions of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the 50th Anniversary of the first performance of Alvin Ailey’s masterwork, Revelations."
Authored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and cosponsored by Senators Charles E. Schumer and Robert Menendez, this resolution honors Revelations as a timeless classic “beloved by people around the world” with universal themes “that illustrate the strength and humanity within all of us.”
Read the press release
March 31, 2011