Cry essay elements of dance
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Question: Explain how the elements of dance are used in Alvin Ailey’s Cry to engage the audience. For example space/time/dynamics, relationship
In 1971, Alvin Ailey created one of his best-known ballets ‘Cry’ as a birthday present for his mother Lula Ailey. Ailey dedicated it to ‘all black women everywhere, especially our mothers.’ The three-part ballet was to popular and gospel music by Alice Coltrane, Laura Nyro and Chuck Griffin. The Ballet is interpreted to display the hardship and servitude women faced, the anger and rage as a result of agonies of slavery; to the ecstatic state of grace, pride and joy for their cultural heritage for all that is worth triumphing for like their children. Cry has been engaging audiences since 1971 as its intensions attract the attention from international audiences being recognized as a memorable dance that holds up by itself no matter who the dancer is.
Cry begins with the symbolic depiction of servitude with the dancer is shown to be to be wearing a large white garment, which evokes her purity in the dark world of slavery she is forced in in. She begins the performance with angst walking in a melodramatic fashion then she dance with proudness and determination shown in her straight confident posture; and finally her strength and power are evoked in her fast sequence of Chaine’ turns and her sharp and angular Grahamesque arms. This first act demonstrates that she has overcome her issues with slavery and takes pride in her culture knowing she is not alone. She evokes this emotion by staying towards the front of the stage to captivate the audience’s attention.
In the first act, Ailey used a cloth prop to demonstrate different objects used by the slaves. The cloth is used as cleaning cloth on the floor where the dancer scrubs the floor on her hands and knees to the dynamic change of a shawl and headdress which demonstrates what the rich would wear, her ancestry and a sense of formality. The tensions in angular arm movements and her undulating spine are derived from Martha Graham a pioneer of modern dance and a major influence on Alvin Ailey’s dance life.
Cry is defined as a call out of utter emotions of grief, sorrow and pain; in the second act this is shown through staccato movements. In this section the woman’s moves become sharper and faster evoking the building of tension faced by the women. This leads to the dancer crying into her dress, showing frustration by throwing the dress around and swaying with the fabric trying to find serenity and peace within herself. There are many contract and release movements in this section suggesting that there are times when a woman is weak and collapses due to the strenuous work but there is that strong recovery to overcome the trials and tribulations. The angular movements with the arms are used to show the aggression and tension in her body. Because of the anger portrayed through the movements of this section, the floor pattern involves movements running in one direction and then going to anther direction spontaneously demonstrating the confusion that comes with suffering and frustration.
In the last section of cry, there is a vast change in the floor pattern where the whole space is being used to show a sense of freedom and being determined. There is a strong release of positive energy, with brighter emotion in the face, ball changes and undulating spine movements with a ‘funk’ feel and a percussive vibe to all movements. There are elevated jumps including a grand jete expressing the freedom to move which contrasts with the grounded organic movements showing the dancer enjoying the sounds of blues and gospel as it was their culture.
The beginning and ending position symbolises the unity between the progression of frustration and despair to the strength that is gained. This powerful message was dedicated to the African culture and specifically African women dealt with slavery to be proud, dignified and deserving women. Alvin Ailey was influenced strongly by ‘blood memories’ as he experienced being raised only by his mother who he witnessed being raped by at a young age, his own experience of racism and experiencing the work struggles having to work on plantations.
Alvin Ailey said that he believed, ‘dance came from the people and that dance should always be delivered back to the people,’ which is why he created this world recognised piece so that African American women especially mothers can feel liberated. Performed by many different females from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Cry will continue to be performed for audiences to engage on this journey of bitter sorrow, brutal hardship and ecstatic joy of a respected cultural heritage.