The World of Theater and Dance: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

By VWayne

Every year, dancers and dance lovers across America look forward to the touring company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Since the late 1950s, The repertory dance company has seemingly exploded in popularity across the country, as well as the world. Having performed in 48 states and 71 countries spanning 6 of the 7 continents, it is estimated that the company’s performances have been seen by 23 million people. Currently on their North American tour leg, they are now at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre through Sunday, March 28.

Perhaps one of the most acclaimed dance companies in the world, AAADT had humble beginnings. From a small group of young African American modern dancers performing at New York’s 92nd Street YM-YWHA, Alvin Ailey’s choreography has promoted the uniqueness of the African American cultural experience. The company started out on what Mr. Ailey called “the station wagon tours” where a friend of his drove them from performance to performance in his car. Over the years, the company has become more and more sought after, packing theaters everywhere.
Because they are a repertory company, there are many timeless pieces that audiences have come to look forward to with every ticket they purchase. Likely the most well known piece in the company’s repertoire, Revelations has become a staple along the tour, year after year. Using music from traditional African American spirituals and what he called “blood memories” from his early childhood in Texas, Alvin Ailey choreographed Revelations in 1960 as a tribute to the heritage of the African American.
For 50 years, the company has performed this piece, depicting the plight and spirit – “sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant but always hopeful” – of African Americans. Perhaps his crowning glory, the timeless masterpiece lives on, with many people attending the performances year upon year solely for the purpose of seeing it again and again. But don’t misunderstand; Mr. Ailey didn’t want the company to hold only his works (he created 79 ballets throughout his lifetime). There are many works, depicted by the phenomenal ensembles of dancers over the years, from other renowned choreographers such as Judith Jamison, a member of the company for 15 years.

Before his death in 1989, Ailey expressed that he wanted Judith Jamison to be his successor and subsequently, she was appointed Artistic Director of the company in December of that year. Undoubtedly one of the most well known and talented African American dancers, it’s no wonder she was personally chosen as the successor.
She has said in her autobiography, Dancing Spirit (edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), “I hope I’m a continuation of Alvin’s vision. He has left me a road map. It’s very clear. It works.” This season, she premieres her newest work, Among Us (Private Spaces: Public Places).

Tonight, I’ll be in attendance, as I was last year, to see the athletic splendor and rhythmic beauty of AAADT’s repertoire. Although I won’t get the opportunity to experience Ms. Jamison’s new work (it won’t be performed tonight), I will see Best of 20 Years featuring 14 ballets either revived from the repertoire by Judith Jamison or that she has brought to the company herself.
To add to the night’s enjoyment, Revelations is also on the bill, of course. I could watch them dance over and over again and I plan to do just that. Every year, I will go and see Ailey when it comes to Chicago. As a change from the Klairkia format, I’m going to come back tomorrow to give you a World of Theater and Dance follow-up: I’ll let you in on how it went (though I’m sure it will be amazing).

See ya on the stage…

**Are you going to see AAADT when the company comes to your city? Let us know what you think of the company and the performances.**
This entry was posted in AAADT, African American, Alvin Ailey, black, Chicago, dance, Dancing, Judith Jamison, theatre, VWayne. Bookmark the permalink.

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