Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's most recognizable work is Ailey's Revelations—a masterpiece that's been performed continuously since its premiere in 1960. Sylvia Waters, former artistic director of Ailey II, coached AAADT dancer Fana Tesfagiorgis through the opening steps of the haunting first section, “I Been 'Buked."
About Revelations: “Alvin was inspired by his own memories, and the piece is an homage to our ancestors and to all of humankind," Waters says. “It's a testament to the power of the language of dance."
See It in Action: This section doesn't rely solely on counts, and Horton technique—the foundation of Ailey's choreography—is extremely specific. So before trying out the phrase, watch our video of Fana Tesfagiorgis and Sylvia Waters breaking down each step with the music. All photos by Kyle Froman.
Stand in a wide second position, with your arms held out slightly from your body and your palms facing forward. Look upward, so your chin points toward the ceiling.
As the choir starts to sing, begin to roll your head back and to the right. Plié, reaching your right arm in a long downward diagonal away from your body, and draw your left hand upward along your rib cage.
As soon as you reach the bottom of your plié, begin to straighten your arms and legs, passing through the starting position before repeating the same movements to the left side.
When you get to the bottom of your second plié, reach your right hand toward the ceiling, continuing to look down past your left fingers. As soon as your right arm is straight, move back to standing by initiating the lift from the right side of your rib cage and sliding your right foot in to meet your left foot in a parallel first position.
Bring your left elbow in to your side and straighten your legs completely. Next, reach your left hand overhead to meet your right hand and look upward.
Lean forward and to the right—bending slightly at the waist—and trace two clockwise circles above your head. Keep your gaze on your hands. End with your hands above your head.
Bend your elbows and bring your arms down to chest level, cupping your hands as you gaze toward them. Hold your right hand slightly below your left.
Slowly plié and begin to tilt forward into a flat-back position, crossing your right arm in front of your left. When you reach the bottom of your plié, tendu your left foot to the side, keeping your leg parallel. Raise your arms to resemble wings—slightly bent at the elbows, with the palms facing down.
Slowly draw your left leg in so you're standing on both legs, maintaining your flat-back position. Leading with your fingers, scoop your arms inward as if gathering something in toward your chest.
Simultaneously straighten your legs and flip your forearms so that they are perpendicular to your body. Straighten your arms overhead and reach your fingers and chin toward the ceiling. Finish the phrase by extending your palms toward the audience.