Alvin Ailey and the Embodiment of the Word





So last night my friend Lauren & I went to see "Ailey II," a junior company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which, if you don't know, is one of the premier modern dance companies in the United States.  The dancers were absolutely amazing--really, really incredible; and the high point of the evening was their performance of Ailey's signature piece, "Revelations."  [You can see snippets of it here:  Alvin Ailey's Revelations]

It's a series of short interpretive dances set to various spirituals; and watching the dancers while I was listening to hymns like, "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel," and "Wade in the Water," I was struck by the power of the familiar words.  I felt like I was hearing them for the first time as I was watching them find their expression in these human bodies, as the dancers inhabited the songs of hope and trust, and brought them to life in such a strong, powerful way.  I think my favorite was "Fix Me, Jesus:"  a duet that embodied the physical desire for healing and wholeness.  [Although another pretty amazing one--in a much different way--was "Sinner Man," which evoked the fear one experiences as one tries to run from God and one's sins...]

The performance was just one more reminder for me about how important bodies are in the life of faith, and how important it is for Christians to take them seriously.  In one of the intermissions, Lauren & I were talking about Gospel storytelling, and her experience of watching the Gospel of Mark being told in that form.  Her comment was that internalizing a text that way "does something to you"--and I know exactly what she means; that's how I feel about memorizing poetry, too [and Scripture, of course].  It's a transformative experience when you take the Word into your very being and make it part of you--and that's precisely what I saw in the dancers' performance.  It made the gospel message come alive for me a new way--I saw the gospel in their flesh and blood.  

Listen, I'm all for seeing the gospel in the sacraments, and seeing the gospel in the face of my neighbor; but this was something different, something unique and important in its own way.  I think we should find ways to embody the gospel like this more often, too.