I've been trying to think of ways to verbalize why I'm so moved by Alvin Ailey's "Wade in the Water" sequence. It's almost like my experience reading R.S. Thomas' "Via Negativa"--how do you explain the way poetry reaches deep into you? I'm moved because I think of the African slaves in America and the small consolation they got from the Gospels, from the Exodus narrative. I'm moved because I think of the baptismal moment, that scary point of life where the initiate publicly declares her devotion to God. I'm moved because I think of the ecstatic joy that comes so briefly, so rarely, from those moments where one has an encounter with the 'Other'. This dance sums up all those experiences and spills it out in a blazing tangle of conflicting emotions, joy and sorrow, grief over the wrongs of history, exhilaration at being alive.
The song is based on one of many versions of the slave song. Here's one: "Wade in the Water." It's believed that this kind of song was a code of sorts that notified slaves trying to escape that they should take to water to flee their pursuers. To read a little more about Alvin Ailey's dance itself, look at pages 10 & 11 of the book Dancing Revelations, by Thomas F. DeFrantz.
In keeping with the joy exhibited by the initiates in the "Wade in the Water" dance, I wish a happy Easter to everyone. Here's an icon of the Anastasis, roughly translated as the "harrowing of hell." This is the image the Eastern Orthodox Christians associate with Easter, as compared with the images of the Crucifixion or the empty tombs that Western Christianity employs. Christ is shown in all his glory, standing on the shattered doors of Sheol, hell, or, more simply, the void of death. He is lifting Adam and Eve, the progenitors of the human race, out of death and into life. And the world was changed, for believer and unbeliever alike, for good and for worse. I would hope the good outweighs the bad, but there are plenty who would disagree. Here's a previous post of mine that some of you may appreciate.