Affected. Something that we, as citizens of the globe, often feel that we must be less of in order to survive. However, Alvin Ailey is reviving ‘Shelter,’ a piece choreographed by Urban Bush Women’s Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, and aims to make us feel just that; affected. Originally performed in 1992, ‘Shelter’ is a “work that frankly addresses the pain and isolation of homelessness,” says the choreographer. The all-female piece reflects not only the struggle but the resiliency of those who are chronically homeless, she notes. Resiliency that, I feel, is part and parcel of the human spirit that we all share. Just as homelessness affects us one and all.
‘Shelter’ is set to debut for the renown dance troupe’s current season in NYC, a place where blatant homelessness is rampant and it is customary to turn a blind eye. As per inspiration for the piece, Zollar remarked that upon settling into NYC in the 80’s she “realized that as a coping mechanism [she] had stopped seeing the people who were homeless… that was [more] dangerous because it was a loss of humanity.” Humanity being all facets of experience, whoever and wherever you may be. I am currently in Barbados, and homelessness is too. While in the city, I had a stranger point out a characteristically homeless man, explain that they went to University together and that he used to be a lawyer. Perhaps knowing the man forced the strangers conscious to acknowledge him, whereas the other people on the street simply passed him by without a glance. I would then ask: must it directly affect us for us to take part in affecting it? A resident New Yorker myself, I have found that turning a blind eye requires us to repress our Souls. To repress the constant call for sympathy as well as the underlying fear of relating. However, the issue and relevance of homelessness cannot be ignored into non-existence. Whether through dance, art, outreach or otherwise, it begs of us to be constantly addressed through awareness and action.
I send energy to the notion that we are not powerless in this matter. Not in aiding those who are afflicted nor in preventing it for ourselves. But our power lies in our ability to give. Not speaking solely of our money or our time, but of our attention as well. In giving our attention to and, therefore, shining a light on the very things that we wish to push into the darkness, the threat of darkness itself disappears. As opposed to our hearts having to do so instead. Especially if Ms. Zollar and the Alvin Ailey Dancers have anything to do with it. So as audiences pack into the plush seats of City Center’s theater, they will be reminded of the transiency of ‘having’. It is indefatigably important to foster contact with our humanity as often as possible; especially to the experiences that we may feel are not applicable to us at the moment. This is exactly what will be accomplished, yet again, with ‘Shelter’. As James Baldwin said ‘…the Artist knows, and must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven.”. So yes, it could happen to you. Perhaps it has happened to you already. May there be continuous attention given and inspiration found to address such a prevalent affliction. May we be led to fostering a future where it does not exist. It is possible.
Alvin Ailey 2017 Season happening now.