Alvin Ailey’s Revelations: An Experience Worth Repeating

A UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student shares her perspectives on this year’s performance — and her joy of discovery with each viewing of this modern classic.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in a reimagining of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations at The Ailey Citigroup Theater. Photo by Travis Magee

By Kari Lindquist

Alvin Ailey® American Dance Theater, Carolina Performing Arts’ longest-running artistic partner, performed two separate programs at Memorial Hall on May 3 and 4 — but both featured the company’s classic closing piece, Revelations, an experience worth repeating. Repetition allows audiences to search for what’s new, what details stand out and how are they different than the last time. 

Revelations was choreographed by Alvin Ailey and premiered in New York in 1960. He drew on African American cultural heritage and memory describing it as “sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful.” He used the idea of “blood memory,” that events are remembered in the body across generations, passed down by blood. Memory and repetition are central to the piece and it has been performed consistently across the world from the time of its premiere. 

Before beginning as a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I taught a program at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago with elementary and middle schoolers connected to the matinee performance by the Alvin Ailey® American Dance Theater. Some of my students saw the performance multiple times over the course of the years and I asked them each time, what surprised them? My students even came to expect to be surprised and thus brought to the performance both what they remembered and the craving to notice something new. 

There’s so much to enjoy in Revelations, from the smallest gesture to the skill and athleticism of the dancers. My favorite part is in the opening movement of “I’ve Been Buked” — the hand flick on unaccentuated beat in the music that is added last to the iconic formation associated with Ailey and Revelations. I remember this gesture and anticipate it, but the moment when it happens still surprises me. 

This time, I was surprised by the rapidly shaking hand gesture used in Cry, right before Revelations, and that I remembered in “Fix Me, Jesus,” danced beautifully by Jacqueline Green and Yannick Lebrun. I was thinking that with how quickly this small gesture moves, it must be hard for the dancers to control it exactly and that each time must be spontaneous and slightly different. Even if only by one or two shakes or with how quickly they happen, the gesture would be difficult to recreate the same way each time even on tempo with the music. I found myself trying out the gesture by trying out the shake in my own hand as I walked across campus after the performance and thinking that not only is it different across the differently choreographed pieces, it must vary across dancers and unique performances. Although the recorded music used for Revelations is the same each time, the element of live performance lends itself to the spontaneous, even in the often-repeated choreography and the way the rhythm is conveyed.

From the choreography and the music to the individual expressions of the dancers in the company, Revelations makes repeated viewing valuable.

When Ailey talked about Revelations, he even mentioned the music even more than the choreography. The music of Revelations, curated by Ailey, comprised of traditional spirituals. The texture of the vocal lines resembles the way the choreography allows individual dancers’ strengths to stand out and blend into the ensemble. Many of the tracks have sparse instrumentation highlighting the choral sound with limited percussive instruments. Additionally, the recording of Revelations includes Billy Porter as one of the singers, now recognizable from his role on the series Pose among his other accomplishments. 

A favorite number of my students, “Wade in the Water” brings out props at a midpoint in the performance. The song was used as a way to give advice during the Underground Railroad that in order to not be tracked, those escaping enslavement could walk through water. The song seemed innocuous to those unaware of its secret meaning. This reflects the “double-consciousness” of Black Americans that W.E.B. DuBois has described; the layers of meaning draw on a rich cultural heritage and lend themselves to new understanding in their repetition.

Whether you’ve never seen Alvin Ailey® American Dance Theater or if you’ve been to every performance, there is more to enjoy with each repeated viewing of Revelations. From the choreography and the music to the individual expressions of the dancers in the company, Revelations makes repeated viewing valuable. Each performance can reveal a new aspect of this treasured piece if you let it surprise you. 


Kari Lindquist is a graduate student in musicology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Department of Music.

CPA looks forward to the return of Alvin Ailey® American Dance Theater in the 23/24 season.

Outdoor Festival Showcases Local Bands

Tracks Music Fest logo from Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture

Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture and Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) are excited to collaborate on Tracks Local Music Fest, a free outdoor concert in downtown Chapel Hill later this month. 

On Saturday, May 21 from 3-7 p.m., five diverse acts from the Tracks Music Library collection will perform back-to-back as part of Tracks Music Fest, taking place outside at CPA’s CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio. The lineup spans a range of genres — from pop to hip hop to punk rock — mirroring the mix of sounds that make up the Triangle’s music scene. Each act will play a 30-minute set with small break in between:

3:00 p.m. — Kicking off the event is Anne-Claire, NC-born and Carrboro-based singer and songwriter. “I write music about experiences I’ve had growing up in the Triangle,” says Anne-Claire in her artist bio. AC is known for elegant vocals both on and off the stage — as a teacher of singing and songwriting for adults and kids alike. 

3:50 p.m. — Americana band Dissimilar South takes the stage with sounds rooted in country and folk genres while experimenting with synthesizers, electric guitars, and drum kits. Expect tight harmonies and lyrics that explore “the bittersweet nature of relationships and queerness with honesty and whit.”  

4:40 p.m. — Transition to the dance realm with Treee City, the electronic music project of Durham-based DJ and producer Patrick Phelps-McKeown. Drawing inspiration from field recordings, pop radio, vintage technology, and 90’s rave nostalgia, Treee City’s sound is unique and an essential part of the Triangle’s electronic music scene.

5:30 p.m. — Rapper, producer and songwriter Austin Royale turns up with a full band to explore experimental sounds of hip hop, rock, and beyond. Austin continues to recreate himself and has been an ongoing influence in the local music scene for almost a decade.

6:20 p.m. — The event closes out with punk rock duo, BANGZZ, hailed for their “loud and fast songs with in your face feminist themes.” Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, Erika Libero, is also the co-founder of the local Chapel Hill music festival Manifest

Each slated act appears on Tracks Music Library, a free local music streaming platform from Community Arts & Culture and Chapel Hill Public Library. With over 100 albums from Triangle-based artists, Tracks aims to help new audiences discover new music and for local musicians to reach new listeners.

Tracks Music Fest will be held at CPA’s CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, located in Carolina Square and created to connect campus and community via the arts. “Carolina Performing Arts is thrilled to partner with Community Arts & Culture to host this celebration of North Carolina music at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, right in the heart of downtown,” says Alison Friedman, CPA’s James and Susan Moeser Executive and Artistic Director. “It’s an important moment to collaborate to launch artists, local businesses, and our communities on the road to recovery from the last two years.” 

Limited seating is available so bringing a chair or blanket is recommended. Beer and ice cream will be available for purchase. Additional food can be purchased at local and nearby restaurants. To learn more about the event, including parking and transportation options, visit chapelhillarts.org/tracksfest. To learn more about Tracks Music Library, visit tracksmusiclibrary.org

Media inquiries: Contact Melissa Bartoletta at mbartoletta@chapelhillarts.org.

Southern Hip Hop Primer Playlist

Hip Hop South Festival logo
Hip Hop South Festival co-curator and CPA staff member Christopher Massenburg (a.k.a. Dasan Ahanu) offers a Southern hip hop playlist to help audiences prepare for the April 22–23 events.

“Southern Futures aims to imagine a more just and inclusive vision of the American South by imagining the future, focusing on humble listening and community engagement, and bringing storytelling and art to the foreground. With that aim in mind, I selected Southern rap tracks that I felt brought social commentary to the forefront, spoke beautifully of material conditions, offered compelling messages and were a vibe. I selected songs from acts that represent different parts of the South. There are some big hits and some songs that are loved but not chart topping. They all deserve a listen. The South still saying all the things!”

Read more about the scholarship and inspiration behind this new event: Hip Hop South Festival Q&A with Christopher Massenburg

Hip Hop South Festival Q&A with Christopher Massenburg

Hip Hop South Festival co-curator and CPA staff member Christopher Massenburg (a.k.a. Dasan Ahanu) shares the scholarship and inspiration behind this new event — and what audiences can expect.
Photo of Hip Hop South Festival co-curators Dr. Regina Bradley and Chris Massenburg (Dasan Ahanu)
Dr. Regina Bradley and Christopher Massenburg. Photo credit: Rofhiwa Book Cafe
What inspired you to partner with Dr. Regina Bradley on the Hip Hop South Festival? 

Regina and I met while we were both Fellows at Harvard University’s Hip Hop Archive and Research Institute. Regina is a brilliant Southern hip hop scholar. When I suggested the idea of the festival, I knew I wanted to work with Regina. We’ve had so many great conversations about the culture and the South. I knew she would have the perfect perspective on the festival. 

How would you describe your co-curation process? How does your Fellowship at Harvard — and your continued scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill and elsewhere — inform it? 

The great thing about working with Regina is that we are friends. Talking about the festival is really us dreaming about a dope Southern hip hop experience that we would want to enjoy. The curation is experience first. Then we think about the logistics that can provide that experience.  

We are both products of the culture. We grew up in it and it is a part of how we see the world, how we move. We both seek to bring the South, the Black South, the Hip Hop South into our work whenever we can. It is our experience with that ongoing integration in spaces like our fellowship, our teaching, our writing, and our participation in various projects that we brought to the curation of the festival. 

How did you determine which artists to feature? What makes their work particularly noteworthy or exemplary of Southern hip hop culture? 

We started with a large list of possibilities. We wanted to make sure there was a range of artists on that list. The South isn’t a monolith. The same is true for hip hop in the South. The artists are different and distinct.  

The other thing to consider is geography. There is a Southern aesthetic, but that aesthetic also varies from area to area. What is happening musically in Memphis is different from Atlanta, New Orleans and North Carolina. It makes for a really beautiful puzzle to work with. Of course, we also wanted to make sure North Carolina was represented in this festival.  

How do the festival artists and academics tie to CPA’s Southern Futures initiative? 

Southern Futures aims to imagine a more just and inclusive vision of the American South. I believe that to do so it is imperative to consider the role of hip hop in the story of the South. Hip hop is a revolutionary culture that pushes back at rigid conventions. It offers folks an outlet to speak about the material conditions impacting their life. It also allows for a celebration of their South own their terms.  

Southern Futures’ mission is to examine the past of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and greater community; and imagine the future, focusing on humble listening and community engagement, bringing storytelling and art to the foreground. Storytelling is a big part of Southern hip hop music. There are rich and beautiful stories to be told and Southern rap artists tell them in compelling fashion. 

Southern hip hop scholarship is still making sure the academy knows the South got something to say. It was critical to hold space within the festival for Southern scholars to be able to connect and network. Fighting for room within the academy for your scholarship can feel daunting, but knowing that you are part of a cadre of scholars pushing the Hip Hop South to the forefront can be encouraging and affirming. We wanted folks to be able to know what work was being done, share experiences and resources, and build new relationships. An initiative like Southern Futures provides an opportunity to center Southern art and scholarship. 

How would you describe Southern hip hop culture to those who may be less familiar with it? What makes it distinctly different from the broader hip hop culture and canon? 

I can’t describe Southern hip hop to someone. I can let them know that it is its own flavor of wonderful. I can assure them that they need to experience it. Commercial representation doesn’t do it justice. The festival is a chance for people to really immerse themselves in the culture in a Southern way. Like many things in the South, you have a better understanding when you can experience in context and it its moment. So folks just need to come on down and have some fun with us.  

What can audiences expect to see and hear during the festival? 

What audiences can expect to see and hear is joy. Throughout the festival there will be excitement, anticipation and joy. There is joy when we gather. There is joy when we celebrate. When we can get together in a space held for us we can be us openly. That is joy.  

So folks should come ready to have a ball, hang out with good folks, and experience some Southern joy. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from the Hip Hop South Festival experience? 

I want folks to have enjoyed it so much they can’t wait to see what we do next. I want folks to know that this event is exactly what is needed and is a great addition to the music landscape in North Carolina, in the South.  


Get ready for the Hip Hop South Festival with Chris’ playlist: Southern Hip Hop Primer Playlist

Announcing the Hip Hop South Festival at Carolina Performing Arts

Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is excited to announce the Hip Hop South Festival, a two-day event from April 22–23, 2022 that celebrates the impact of hip hop across the South. Co-curated by Harvard Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellows Christopher Massenburg (also known as Dasan Ahanu) and Regina Bradley, the festival will feature headlining performances by hip hop heavyweights and local artists, as well as academic gatherings, late-night beat and dance battles, visual art and more. 

The Hip Hop South Festival is part of CPA’s Southern Futures initiative, which features arts experiences co-created with local communities and focuses on racial equity, social justice and the American South. As a co-curator and CPA staff member, Christopher Massenburg looks forward to exploring hip hop culture with audiences.  

“The Hip Hop South Festival creates space for deeper exploration and appreciation of hip hop’s geographical influence by focusing on the development and impact of the culture across the South.”  

HIP HOP South festival co-curator christopher massenburg

The festival kicks off Friday, April 22 with a main show at Cat’s Cradle, featuring North Carolina favorites Carolina Waves, Shirlette Ammons, and Rapsody — followed by Turn It Loose, Volume 3 — a late-night B-boy jam at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, hosted by the Raleigh Rockers, and featuring breakdancing demonstrations and competitions with dance crews from across the region.  

The excitement continues Saturday, April 23 with a main show at Memorial Hall, featuring some of the South’s finest hip hop artists — Radio Rehab, Sa-Roc, and Big Boi — followed by a late-night beat battle at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, hosted by The Underground Collective, and featuring local luminaries The Soul Council, who will provide beat demonstrations and judging.  

Festivalgoers will also enjoy a visual arts experience throughout the two days. “Dirty South Scribes, an exhibit by Regina Bradley at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, honors the groundbreaking writers who spotlight Southern rap’s significance.  

See the full festival schedule.

Tickets are on sale now and include single-day and two-day pass options; a limited number of UNC-Chapel Hill student tickets are available. 

Learn more about what to expect when you visit our venues — including ticketing, parking, and health and safety protocols — in our Event FAQ

About Carolina Performing Arts 

The mission of Carolina Performing Arts is to spark curiosity, inspiring all members of its community to discover and more fully engage with the world. The 21/22 season programming at Carolina Performing Arts features Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts, designed to facilitate co-creative arts experiences that produce diverse and nuanced narratives about racial equity, social justice, and the American South and create spaces for inclusive dialogue and learning. 

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