Alvin Ailey: Wikis

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Alvin Ailey, Jr.

photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1955
Born January 5, 1931(1931-01-05)
Rogers, Texas, U.S.
Died December 1, 1989 (aged 58)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Occupation Dancer, choreographer

Alvin Ailey, Jr. (January 5, 1931 – December 1, 1989) was an American choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. Ailey is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation in 20th century concert dance. His company gained the nickname "Cultural Ambassador to the World" because of its extensive international touring. Ailey's choreographic masterpiece Revelations is believed to be the best-known and most often seen modern dance performance.

Contents

Early years

Great Depression, Ailey and his mother moved very often and she had a hard time finding work. Ailey grew up during a time of racial segregation and rumors of violence and lynchings against African-Americans. When his mother was raped by a group of white men when he was five made him afraid of whites. Early experiences in the Southern Baptist church and jook joints instilled in him a fierce sense of black pride that would later figure prominently in Ailey's signature works.[1]' [2]

In the fall of 1942, Ailey's mother, like many African Americans, migrated to Los Angeles , California where she had heard there was lucrative work supporting the war effort. Ailey joined his mother later by train, having stayed behind in Texas to finish out the school year. Ailey's first junior high school in California was located in a primarily white school district. As one of the only black students, Ailey felt out of place because of his fear of whites, so the Aileys moved to a predominantly black school district. He matriculated at George Washington Carver Junior High School, and later attended the Thomas Jefferson High School. He sang spirituals in the glee club, wrote poetry, and demonstrated a talent for languages. He regularly attended shows at Lincoln Theater and the Orpheum Theater. Ailey did not become serious about dance until in 1949 his school friend Carmen De Lavallade introduced him to the Hollywood studio of Lester Horton . Horton would prove to be Ailey's major influence, becoming a mentor and giving him both a technique and a foundation with which to grow artistically.[3]

Horton's school taught a wide range of dance styles and techniques, including classical ballet, jazz, and Native American dance. Horton's school was also the first multi-racial dance school in the United States.[3] Ailey was, at first, ambivalent about becoming a professional dancer. He had studied Romance languages at various universities in California,[citation needed] but was restless, academically, and took courses as well in the writings of James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Carson McCullers. He moved to San Francisco to continue his studies in 1951. There, he met Marguerite Johnson, who later changed her name to Maya Angelou. They occasionally performed a nightclub act called "Al and Rita." Ailey earned a living waiting tables and dancing at the New Orleans Champagne Supper Club. Eventually, he returned to study dance with Horton in southern California.[3]

The Horton Dance Company

He was introduced to the Horton Dance company through Carmen, a life long friend. At twenty-two Ailey began full-time study at Horton's school. He joined Horton's company in 1953, making his debut in Horton's Revue Le Bal Caribe. It was during this period that he performed in several Hollywood films. Like all of Horton's students, Ailey studied other art forms, including painting, acting, music, set design, and costuming, as well as ballet and other forms of modern and ethnic dance.

When Horton died in November 1953 the tragedy left the company without an artistic director. The company had outstanding contracts that required and desired new works. When no one else stepped forward, Ailey assumed the role of artistic director. Him being so young and inexperienced (Ailey was only twenty-two and had only choreographed one dance in a workshop) he began choreographing, directing scene and costume designs, and running rehearsal.

Ailey designed his first piece in memory of Horton. It was arranged to showcase James Truitte's physical strength and Carmen de Lavallade's beauty and dramatic abilities.

New York

In 1954, he and his friend Carmen De Lavallade were invited to New York to dance in the Broadway show, House of Flowers by Truman Capote starring Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll. He also appeared in Sing, Man, Sing (1956) starring Harry Belafonte and in Jamaica (1957) with Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalbán. The New York modern dance scene in the fifties was not to Ailey's taste. He observed the classes of modern dance contemporaries such as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and José Limón. He felt Graham's dancing "finicky and strange" and disliked. The techniques of both Doris Humphrey and José Limón. Ailey expressed disappointment in not being able to find a technique similar to Horton's. Not finding a mentor, he began creating works of his own.[4][5]

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater

Ailey formed his own group, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in 1958. The group presented its inaugural concert on March 30, 1958. Notable early work included Blues Suite, a piece deriving from blues songs. Ailey's choreography was a dynamic and vibrant mix growing out of his previous training in ballet, modern dance, jazz, and African dance techniques. Ailey insisted upon a complete theatrical experience, including costumes, lighting, and make-up. A work of intense emotional appeal expressing the pain and anger of African Americans, Blues Suite was an instant success and defined Ailey's style.

For his signature work, Revelations, Ailey drew upon his "blood memories" of Texas, the blues, spirituals, and gospel. These forces resulted in the creation of his most popular and critically acclaimed work. Ailey originally intended the dance to be the second part of a larger, evening-length survey of African-American music which he began with Blues Suite.

Though Ailey created 79 works for his dancers, he maintained that his company was not merely a showcase for his own work. Today, the company continues Ailey's vision by performing important works from the past and commissioning new additions to the repertoire. In all, more than 200 works by over 70 choreographers have been performed by the company.

Ailey was proud that his company was multi-racial. While he wanted to give opportunities to black dancers, who were frequently excluded from performances by racist attitudes at the time, he also wanted to rise above issues of negritude. His company always employed artists based solely on artistic talent and integrity regardless of their race

Ailey continued to create work for his own company and also choreographed for other companies.

In 1962 the U.S. State Department sponsored the Alvin Ailey Dance Company's first overseas tour. Ailey was suspicious of his government benefactors' motives. He suspected they were propagandistic, seeking to advertise a false tolerance by showcasing a modern Negro dance group.

In 1970, Ailey was honored by a commission to create The River for American Ballet Theatre. Ailey viewed The River, which he based on the music of composer Duke Ellington, as a chance to work with some of the finest ballet dancers in the world, particularly with the great dramatic ballerina Sallie Wilson. ABT, however, insisted that the leading male role be danced by the only black man, despite misgivings by Ailey and others about the dancer's talent.

Cry (1971), was one of Ailey's greatest successes. He dedicated it to his mother and black women everywhere. It became a signature piece for Judith Jamison.

The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater was constructed by Tishman Realty and Construction Corporation of New York, Manhattan's largest builder.

Technique

Ailey made use of any combination of dance techniques that best suited the theatrical moment.[5] Valuing eclecticism, he created more a dance style than a technique. He said that what he wanted from a dancer was a long, unbroken leg line and deftly articulated legs and feet ("a ballet bottom") combined with a dramatically expressive upper torso ("a modern top"). "What I like is the line and technical range that classical ballet gives to the body. But I still want to project to the audience the expressiveness that only modern dance offers, especially for the inner kinds of things."[5]

Ailey's dancers came to his company with training from a variety of other schools, from ballet to modern and jazz and later hip-hop. He was unique in that he did not train his dancers in a specific technique before they performed his choreography. He approached his dancers more in the manner of a jazz conductor, requiring them to infuse his choreography with a personal style that best suited their individual talents. This openness to input from dancers heralded a paradigm shift that brought concert dance into harmony with other forms of African-American expression, including big band jazz.[5]

In 1992 Alvin Ailey was inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame.

Personal life

Ailey kept his life as a dancer a secret from his mother for the first two years. Alvin Ailey died in 1989 at the age of 58.[6] To spare his mother the social stigma of his death from AIDS, Ailey asked his doctor to announce that he had died of terminal blood dyscrasia.[7]

Choreography

  • Cinco Latinos, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Kaufmann Concert Hall, New York City, 1958.
  • Blues Suite (also see below), Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre,Kaufmann Concert Hall, 1958.
  • Revelations, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Kaufmann ConcertHall, 1960.
  • Three for Now, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Clark Center, New York City, 1960.
  • Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Clark Center, 1960.
  • (With Carmen De Lavallade) Roots of the Blues, Lewisohn Stadium, New York City, 1961.
  • Hermit Songs, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1963.
  • Ariadne, Harkness Ballet, Opera Comique, Paris, 1965.
  • Macumba, Harkness Ballet, Gran Teatro del Liceo, Barcelona, Spain,1966, then produced as Yemanja, Chicago Opera House, 1967.
  • Quintet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Church Hill Theatre,Edinburgh Festival, Scotland, 1968, then Billy Rose Theatre, New York City, 1969.
  • Masekela Language, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, American Dance Festival, New London, Connecticut, 1969, then Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City, 1969.
  • Streams (also see below), Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1970.
  • Gymnopedies, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Brooklyn Academyof Music, 1970.
  • The River, American Ballet Theatre, New York State Theatre, 1970.
  • Flowers, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, ANTA Theatre, 1971.
  • Myth, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1971.
  • Choral Dances, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1971.
  • Cry, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1971.
  • Mingus Dances, Robert Joffrey Company, New York City Center, 1971.
  • Mary Lou's Mass, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1971.
  • Song for You, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1972.
  • The Lark Ascending, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1972.
  • Love Songs, Alvin Ailey City Center Dance Theater, New York City Center, 1972.
  • Shaken Angels, Tenth New York Dance Festival, Delacorte Theatre, New York City, 1972.
  • Sea Change, American Ballet Theatre, Kennedy Center Opera House, Washington, D.C., 1972, then New York City Center, 1973.
  • Hidden Rites, Alvin Ailey City Center Dance Theater, New York City Center, 1973.
  • Archipelago, 1971,
  • The Mooche, 1975,
  • Night Creature, 1975,
  • Pas de "Duke", 1976,
  • Memoria, 1979,
  • Phases, 1980
  • Landscape, 1981.

Stage

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Acting and dancing

  • (Broadway debut) House of Flowers, Alvin Theatre, New YorkCity, 1954 - Actor and dancer.
  • The Carefree Tree, 1955 - Actor and dancer.
  • Sing, Man, Sing, 1956 - Actor and dancer.
  • Show Boat, Marine Theatre, Jones Beach, New York, 1957 - Actor and dancer.
  • Jamaica, Imperial Theatre, New York City, 1957 - Actor and lead dance.
  • Call Me By My Rightful Name, One Sheridan Square Theatre, 1961 - Paul.
  • Ding Dong Bell, Westport Country Playhouse, 1961 - Negro Political Leader.
  • Blackstone Boulevard, Talking to You, produced as double-bill in 2 by Saroyan, East End Theatre, New York City, 1961-62.
  • Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, Booth Theatre, 1962 - Clarence Morris.

Stage choreography

  • Carmen Jones, Theatre in the Park, 1959.
  • Jamaica, Music Circus, Lambertville, New Jersey, 1959.
  • Dark of the Moon, Lenox Hill Playhouse, 1960.
  • (And director) African Holiday (musical), Apollo Theatre, New YorkCity, 1960, then produced at Howard Theatre, Washington, D.C., 1960.
  • Feast of Ashes (ballet), Robert Joffrey Company, Teatro San Carlos, Lisbon, Portugal, 1962, then produced at New York City Center, 1971.
  • Anthony and Cleopatra, Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City, 1966.
  • La Strada, first produced at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 1969.
  • (With others) Mass, Metropolitan Opera House, 1972, then John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia Academy of Music, both 1972.
  • Carmen, Metropolitan Opera, 1972.
  • Choreographed ballet, Lord Byron (opera; also see below), Juilliard School of Music, New York City, 1972.
  • Four Saints in Three Acts, Piccolo Met, New York City, 1973.

Director

  • (With William Hairston) Jerico-Jim Crow, The Sanctuary, New York City, 1964, then Greenwich Mews Theatre, 1968.

Filmography

Appearances

  • (Film debut) Dancer, Lydia Bailey, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1952.
  • Dancer, Carmen Jones, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1954.

Choreography

  • Choreographer (with others), The Turning Point, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1977.

Television

Appearances

  • Dancer (with Horton Company), Party at Ciro's (also see below), 1954.
  • Dancer (with Horton Company), Red Skelton Show (also see below), CBS, 1954.
  • (With Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre) Dave Garroway Today Show, NBC, 1959.
  • (With Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre) Look Up and Live, CBS, 1962.
  • (With Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre) Camera Three, CBS, 1962-63.
  • America's Tribute to Bob Hope, NBC, 1988.
  • A Duke Named Ellington (also known as American Masters), PBS, 1988.
  • The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1988.
  • 16th Annual Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, syndicated, 1989.
  • Bill Cosby Salutes Alvin Ailey, NBC, 1989.

Television Choreography

  • The Jack Benny Show, CBS, 1954.
  • Red Skelton Show, CBS, 1954.
  • Parade, CBC, 1964.
  • Alvin Ailey: Memories and Visions, PBS, 1974.
  • "Blues Suite", Three by Three, PBS, 1985.
  • "Revelations", The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1988.
  • "Revelations", Bill Cosby Salutes Alvin Ailey, NBC, 1989.
  • "For Bird--With Love", Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Steps Ahead, PBS, 1991.
  • Also contributed choreography for Party at Ciro's, 1954.
  • Choreographed Ailey Celebrates Ellington, 1974 and 1976, Solo for Mingus, 1979, and Memoria, 1979.

Adaptations

  • Blues Suite, Masekela Language, Streams, and the ballet of Lord Byron have been filmed.

See also

Sources

References

  1. ^ "Alvin Ailey Biohy". filmreference. 2008. http://www.filmreference.com/film/56/Alvin-Ailey.html. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  2. ^ Douglas Blair Turnbaugh (30 July 2004). "Ailey, Alvin". glbtq Encyclopedia. http://www.glbtq.com/arts/ailey_a,2.html. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  3. ^ a b c Dunning, Jennifer (1996). Alvin Ailey: A Life In Dance. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, INC.. ISBN 0-201-62607-1. 
  4. ^ Douglas Blair Turnbaugh (3 February 2009). "Ailey, Alvin". glbtq Encyclopedia. http://www.glbtq.com/arts/ailey_a,2.html. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  5. ^ a b c d THOMAS F. DEFRANTZ (2004). "Dancing Revelations". http://www.questia.com but first published in Book Title: Dancing Revelations: Alvin Ailey's Embodiment of African American Culture. Contributors: Thomas F. Defrantz - author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 2004.. http://www.questia.com/reader/action/prevPage/103146444. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  6. ^ Valerie Gladstone (23 October 1996). "Frail, Strong and Dance Incarnate". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E01E3DD1530F930A15753C1A960958260. Retrieved 2009-01-09. 
  7. ^ Turnbaugh, Douglas Blair (2002). "Ailey, Alvin (1931-1989)". glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture. http://www.glbtq.com/arts/ailey_a.html. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  • Stern, Keith (2009), "Alvin Ailey", Queers in History, BenBella Books, Inc.; Dallas, Texas, ISBN 978-1933771-87-8 

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Alvin Ailey, Jr. (January 5, 1931December 1, 1989) was an African American modern dancer and choreographer who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He died of AIDS, at the age of 58.

Unsourced

  • The most unique thing in the world is you. If you can take these steps and show us yourself through it, then that will be an extraordinary experience for the audience. Because you are unique, if you can tell us what is wonderful about you, or what is strange, or what is sad, or what is angry, then you will have done something extraordinary for the audience.

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