Audiences flock to see Alvin Ailey’s dance company, thanks to their tribute to the African-American experience

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, now in its 60th year of existence, will perform in Chapel Hill Jan. 30 and 31 for two sold-out shows.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, now in its 60th year of existence, will perform in Chapel Hill Jan. 30 and 31 for two sold-out shows. Andrew Eccles

“Revelations,” one of modern dance’s most iconic pieces, takes audiences from the deepest grief of being beaten down to the cleansing offered by baptism to the jubilation found in the black Southern Baptist church.

Set to the music of spirituals, gospel and the blues, the 30-minute piece by famed choreographer Alvin Ailey is marked by athleticism, vibrancy and grace. Balletic moves are infused with all the contours that define the triumphs and tragedies within the African-American community.

Despite the physical and technical challenges presented to the 20 or so dancers on stage, veteran dancer Hope Boykin finds it easy to perform. She can relate to the hope and revelations contained in the tribute to the African-American experience.

“My upbringing, my growing up, we might have spent all day on Sunday in church and two nights a week,” said Boykin, who grew up in Durham and has danced with the Ailey company for 18 seasons.

That may be just one reason audiences flock to performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, now in its 60th year. Music, movement and emotion are melded together so well, they never fail to stomp with joy.

“No matter where we are,” Boykin said, talking about performing “Revelations” across the world, “the response is the same.”

When the dance company comes to Chapel Hill Jan. 30 and 31 for two sold-out shows, the signature “Revelations” piece will performed as the finale, as it is for every performance.

Speaking in a recent telephone interview of the work Ailey created when he was just 29 years old, Boykin said, “I believe ‘Revelations’ came through him, not out of him.”

“He had to surrender,” she said, implying a greater force was at work.

Ailey calls the foundation of this work “blood memories.” It was choreographed in 1960 in New York City as the civil rights movement was taking hold. Ailey spent his childhood in rural Texas at a time marked by segregation and brutality, but his mother took him to the Southern Baptist church with its hope, music and jubilation.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater 2
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, now in its 60th year of existence, will perform in Chapel Hill Jan. 30 and 31 for two sold-out shows. Pictured are dancers Linda Celeste Sims and Yannick Lebrun. Andrew Eccles

Boykin offers her perspective on Ailey’s blood memories.

“They’re deeper than something we remember that happened yesterday,” she said. “I feel that’s what a blood memory is, something embedded in you.”

As for how Ailey could choreograph such a jubilant, transcendent piece despite hardships, she added, “If he were alive, I’d love to ask him.”

Whatever the circumstances, she said, “There is joy in the morning.”

Boykin grew up taking dance at Nina’s School of Dance in Durham, run by Nina Wheeler. She attended Durham Academy from third grade until graduation, where she studied dance under ballet teacher Jennifer Potts.

Boykin later danced with the Phildanco company of Philadelphia and has received a New York Dance and Performance Award, better known as the Bessie Award, that’s given to dancers who present exceptional works in New York City. She teaches at The Ailey School as well.

Besides taking the stage for “Revelations,” she will present her own choreography the first night of the program. The piece, titled “r-Evolution, Dream” is based on her own life and is inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches and sermons. It’s set to original music by Ali Jackson.

“Every experience I’ve had comes out through my movement,” she said.

Reflecting on her childhood in Durham and her dance career, she said she hopes to show other young people they can pursue their dreams, reaching beyond any challenges that confront them.

“All of this has brought me to a place where there are no limits,” she said.


Who: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, as part of the Carolina Performing Arts Series

▪ The Jan. 30 program includes “The Golden Section” by Twyla Tharp and set to new wave rock by David Byrne; “r-Evolution, Dream” by Hope Boykin; and “Revelations” by Alvin Ailey.

▪ The Jan. 31 program includes “Stack Up” by Talley Beatty, a look at ’70s disco; “Mass”; “Ella,” a comedic duet by Robert Battle set to Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal licks; and “Revelations.”

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 and 31

Where: Memorial Hall, 114 E. Cameron Ave., Chapel Hill, on the UNC campus

Tickets: Tickets are sold out. To have your name added to the wait list, contact the Ticket Services team at 919-843-3333 or CPAtixquestions@unc.edu.