PERFORMING ARTS | THEATHER | DANCE | ALVIN ALLEY
MODERN DANCE COMPANY
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is a modern dance company based in New York, New York. It was founded in 1958 by choreographer and dancer Alvin Ailey. It is made up of 30 dancers, led by artistic director Robert Battle and associate artistic director Masazumi Chaya.
Alvin Ailey and a group of young Black modern dancers first performed at New York’s 92nd Street Young Men’s Hebrew Association (92nd Street Y), under the name Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), in March 1958. At this point in time, Alvin Ailey was the company’s director, choreographer, and principal dancer. The company started as an ensemble of only seven dancers, plus their choreographer, and many guest choreographers. Following their first performance, which included Alvin Ailey’s Blues Suite, the company traveled on what were known as the “station wagon tours”; in 1960, the AAADT became a resident company of the 51st Street YWCA‘s Clark Center for the Performing Arts. It was during this period that Ailey choreographed his famous work Revelations, a character dance done to traditional music. In 1962, Ailey changed his all-black dance company into a multi-racial group, believing that there was a kind of reverse chauvinism to anything all black. In that same year, the company was chosen to tour the Far East, Southeast Asia and Australia as part of President John F. Kennedy‘s “President’s Special International Program for Cultural Presentations”. AAADT was the first “Black” company to travel for Kennedy’s program. Judith Jamison, a star of the company for 15 years, joined the company in 1965.
Ailey established a school in 1969, the same year that the company moved to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Both company and school relocated to 229 East 59th Street in Manhattan a year later, to a renovated church building. In April of that year, a financial crisis caused Ailey to issue a statement that the dissolution of the company might take place. The crisis abated, however, and in 1971 AAADT made its first performance at the New York City Center, where it is currently the resident company. Associate artistic director Masazumi Chaya joined the company in 1972.
AAADT, the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (later renamed Ailey II) and the Ailey School relocated in 1980 to four new studios in a building on Broadway. The company celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary three years later. Alvin Ailey died on December 1, 1989; before his death he selected Judith Jamison to succeed him as artistic director, and the entire Ailey organization moved to 211 West 61st Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The Ailey School and nearby Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), Fordham University, have since affiliated to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree program.
Many arts organizations have experienced stresses upon the death of their founding artistic director. Many people have contributed to the success of AAADT, but the work of Michael Kaiser, the executive director from 1990 to 1993, is often cited as a model of successful nonprofit performing arts management.
Following tours in Russia, France and Cuba in the 1990s, as well as a residency in South Africa in 1997, the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation announced in 2001 that a new dance complex was to be developed. Ground was broken on the building site in Manhattan the following year. The company and school moved into the building, named the Joan Weill Center for Dance, in 2004. The company toured Russia and the United Kingdom the following year.
In 2007, AAADT was among over 530 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, made possible through a donation by then New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Ailey School is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD). The Ailey School is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as an institution of higher education and is eligible to participate in Title IV programs. The Ailey School is recognized by the US Veterans Administration as an eligible school to participate in Veteran’s Educational Benefit Programs. The Ailey School is authorized under Federal Law to enroll non-immigrant alien students. Denise Jefferson was selected by Ailey to head the school when it was founded in 1984 and served as its director until her death in 2010.
Robert Battle became Ailey’s artistic director in 2011.
Performances and repertory
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has performed for an estimated 23 million people in 48 states, as well as 71 countries on six continents. Among these performances are included two South African residencies. The company has often been an ambassador for American culture, starting with President John F. Kennedy’s Southeast Asia tour program. The troupe toured southeast Asia and Australia in 1962, and performed in the International Arts Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1963. They performed at the first World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal in 1966. The same year, AAADT performed at the Edinburgh festival, earning awards for “best choreographer”, and “best company”. They were also awarded “best male dancer” at the International Dance Festival in Paris in 1970, the same year that they did a six-city tour of the USSR. The company and its dancers and artistic staff have been recognized as cultural ambassadors numerous times, as in the 2001 awarding of the National Medal of Arts to both Judith Jamison and the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation.
Founder Alvin Ailey created more than 79 dances for his company during his tenure; he also maintained, however, that the company was not solely a repository for his choreography. Hence AAADT has a repertory of more than 200 works by over seventy choreographers, including such choreographers as Ulysses Dove, Karole Armitage, George Faison, Uri Sands, Elisa Monte, Talley Beatty, Katherine Dunham and Twyla Tharp (whose work The Golden Section, excerpted from her larger ballet, The Catherine Wheel, entered AAADT’s repertory in 2006). The company’s popularity comes from its theatrical, extroverted style of dancers with strong personalities and muscular skill. Yet the majority of AAADT’s pieces haven’t held the stage for more than a few seasons, and comparatively few have managed to reach critical acclaim. However, the company keeps Alvin Ailey’s works, including Revelations (1960), Night Creature (1974) and Cry (1971), in continuous performance. Memoria was one of Alvin Ailey’s balletic pieces, with long lines and a clear technical style different from his usual jazz character style of swirling patters, strong, driving arm movements, huge jumps, and thrusting steps. This dance was later adopted into the repertory of the Royal Danish Ballet. Cry is a three-part, twenty-minute solo created for Judith Jamison. It was meant to pay homage to all Black women, and can be seen as a journey from degradation to pride, defiance, and survival. Cry has great physical and emotional demands on both performer and audience.
Battle has expanded the company’s repertory in significant ways, adding works by established choreographers such as Garth Fagan, Jiri Kylian, Wayne McGregor, Ohad Naharin and Paul Taylor, and commissioning new dances from contemporary choreographers including Kyle Abraham and Aszure Barton. In 2011, Battle also established a New Directions Choreography Lab to nurture emerging artists.
The company members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater are: