Roots of Cultural Identity in African-American Concert Dance In Alvin Ailey's Revelations and Chuck Davis' Memorial
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African American Concert Dance
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AbstractCultural identity is an individual and collective process of rooting members in a shared sense of community based on commonalities of experience, history, tradition, and memory. African American choreographers, Alvin Ailey and Chuck Davis created concert dance traditions that significantly influenced African American cultural identity in concert performance. For Ailey, Davis, and other African Americans, the ring-shout and negative racial stereotypes were pivotal in reshaping cultural identity by impacting artistic choices and cultural representations in performance. At the point of the ring-shout and Africanized Christian practices, a class division developed that placed aesthetics deemed too African in folk and traditional performance. As a resistance against negative racial stereotypes in performance, African American concert dance artists sought to establish appreciation for their cultural heritage by blending their vernacular with Western styles and or presenting African aesthetics in performance. Dance works that visually reflected an American experience, a syncretism of ballet, jazz, and codified modern forms were received as modern dances and those that fulfilled social expectations of African dance aesthetics were classified as folk and traditional. However, classifications of traditional or modern dance should be determined by the characteristics of the creative process, by how the theme, function, and purpose align with the cultural identity, individual and collective memories of the creators and practitioners, and not how visual aesthetics or movement vocabularies are perceived to connect to certain cultural traditions. This study will use a historical analysis, including oral histories, audience and critic reception, ethnographic interpretation from extensive experience in traditional and modern dance, and a semiotic analysis of archival video footage of two concert dance works, Alvin Ailey’s Revelations and Chuck Davis’ Memorial. Revelations, is recognized as an American modern dance masterpiece and Memorial as an African dance tradition by dance historians, dance critics, and audiences largely based on visual analysis of the aesthetic values and not on the creative characteristics. Although the two bear some semblance, I propose as an alternative interpretation that Revelations functions as a traditional dance and Memorial, as a modern dance in African American concert performance. The significance of this intervention is to highlight the characteristics of traditional African dance beyond socially expected movement vocabularies of aesthetics markers and detail their structure to root cultural identity through individual and collective memory. This is important to broaden the incorporation of African dance aesthetics in modern creative processes, and to broaden the inclusivity of innovation in traditional creative practices. Secondly, in focusing on the creative framework, theme, function, and purpose, over the visual aesthetic of African American concert dance, this intervention examines African cultural retentions in African American performance whereby syncretic movement vocabularies were translated into a traditional framework with a creative process and structure that preserved Pan African cultural identity in concert performance. Lastly, this intervention is to identity the impact of the ring shout and negative stereotypes towards African Americans in determining artistic choices that departed from African American traditions for American or African aesthetics to refocus cultural identity. This study proposes a comprehensive approach that combines traditional and modern methods.
DescriptionThis thesis was completed as an option for requirements of the degree of Master’s in Liberal Studies and is a study on the roots of cultural identity in African-American concert dance as it relates to classifications of modern or traditional dance particularly for two influential African-American artists, Alvin Ailey and his work Revelations and Chuck Davis and Memorial at DanceAfrica. *For use, reproduction and licensing permission of this work contact the author at: email@example.com *