The Alvin AileyAmerican Dance Theater has developed and progressed, from the time period 1958to 2002. I will study how the practitioners: Alvin Ailey and Judith Jamison bothassisted to contribute to the advancements and the successes of the companyindividually. By doing this, I will discuss each practitioner’s choreographicworks and influences, as well as how they have personally adapted the companyto make improvements.
I will also discuss how Alvin Ailey and Judith Jamisonrefreshed and adapted Alvin Ailey’s traditional works, to make them engage anaudience of today. Finally, the essay will explore the full history of the AlvinAiley American Dance Theater, and assess its cultural and ethical developmentsthroughout the time periods. The Alvin AileyAmerican Dance Theater was first set up in 1958, in New York City. Alvin Aileygathered a group of all African-American dancers, in order to showcase his workto the American community. This was made possible for Ailey to do, becauseduring this time period it was the American civil rights movement, which helpedto benefit the lives of black people. The Gale Group said that”The civil rights movement was astruggle by African Americans in the mid-1950s to late 1960s to achieve civilrights equal to those of whites, including equal opportunity in employment,housing, and education, as well as the right to vote, the right of equal accessto public facilities, and the right to be free of racial discrimination” (The Gale Group, 2005).
Ailey was able to create andshowcase his first solo in 1958 called ‘Ode and Homage’. This solo wasdedicated to his first modern dance teacher Lester Horton, who inspired Aileythroughout his whole career. Biography suggests that “That same year, he debuted Blues Suite, a piece that drew from his southern roots” (Biography.com, 2017).Ailey created ‘Blues Suite’ inwhich he set in Southern Texas where he grew up as a child.
The piece is based uponhis own blood memories who are all weighed down by the Southern heat anddespair. These two pieces of choreography were able to demonstrate an insightto Ailey’s choreographic influence, as both of these pieces showed insight tohis early life. ‘Ode and Homage’ and ‘Blues Suite’ allowed the Alvin AileyAmerican Dance Theater to start a second season in 1959. During this year, Aileyimproved his original choreography ‘Blues Suite’, by adding a level ofcharacterisation and drama to the piece. This allowed audiences to connect tothe choreography on an emotional level. The pieces also allow us to seeHorton’s inspiration to Ailey, as he uses the idea of a using multi-ethnic cast,to celebrate the African heritage.
The 1960s brought one of Ailey’smost famous works ‘Revelations’: “Morethan just a popular dance work, it has become a cultural treasure, beloved bygenerations of fans” (Foundation A. A., 2018).’Revelations’ also uses bloodmemories like ‘Blues Suite’, and the idea of Ailey’s childhood. For example,the music comes from Ailey’s Baptist Church from his younger life, to representhis personal spiritual beliefs. This can be heard during the YouTube source (Theater, 2012).In 1962, the company were able to advance as they were given their firstgovernment subsidy, which allowed them to tour South East Asia and recruit newdancers.
Ailey created a success in the dance community as he recruited whiteand Asian dancers to encourage unity and show equality is improving in theworld. 1966, founded the company in a financially difficult time. Their statemoney was delayed, which meant that they were left stranded in Spain and a selectionof Ailey’s dancers decided to leave the company. From this Ailey was left tofind a solution to this problem, and he planned a tour around Italy. In 1969,Ailey created a statement piece based around apartheid. According toHistory.com apartheid is where:”nonwhite South Africans (a majority of thepopulation) would be forced to live in separate areas from whites and useseparate public facilities, and contact between the two groups would belimited” (History.com, 2010).
The dance was set to HughMasekela, the South Asian Trumpeter at this time, and showed the effects ofsegregation on South African community. In 1970, Ailey increased thepopularity of the company, as they performed on ‘The Today Show’ which is awell-known show in the United States. This was a great success for the companyas it meant that people were able to see the company perform, and learn abouttheir dance works. 1971 was a very important year the company. Alvin AileyAmerican Dance Centre became Ailey’s official school teaching techniques in:Graham, Horton, Dunham, Ballet, Jazz and Limon. From this, Judith Jamisonbecame Ailey’s muse, and Ailey dedicated a solo to her named ‘Cry’.
‘Cry’ wasdedicated to black women, but especially mothers:”Alvin Ailey choreographed his signature solo Cry as a birthday present forhis dignified mother, and created the dance on his stunning muse, JudithJamison” (Foundation A. A., 2018).During the mid-70s, Ailey’spopularity was increasing, however his idea of having multi-racial cast beganto cause negative comments about the company. Ailey still wanted to appeal towide audiences, however the modern dance world was becoming abstract andAiley’s work was becoming too commercial.
Fleming suggests that”Some critics insisted he had sold out and had become too commercial.Others said his work was now stale, too predictable” (Fleming, 1998).As Ailey was becomingincreasingly popular during this time period, in 1975 Ailey had to take timeout, as he was having psychological issues with the pressures of fame and heput his health first.
In the year of 1980, Ailey wasdiagnosed with manic depression, now known as Bipolar disease. Healthline havesaid that: “Alvin Ailey grew up in an unstable environment after being abandoned byhis father as a child. Ailey suffered from bipolar disorder, which wasaggravated by his drinking and drug use. He achieved great success in theAmerican arts landscape as a renowned modern dancer and choreographer” (Healthline, 2005-2018)Ailey however did return towork during this year, on medication for his condition. In 1987, an advancementfor the company happened.
Ailey was awarded with the Samuel Scripps AmericanDance Festival award for lifetime contribution to dance. New York Times saysthat”Given for lifetime contributions to American modern dance, the $25,000award is the largest annual prize offered in the performing arts” (Times, 1987).Unfortunately, 1989 saw Aileypass away at the age of 58 from AIDS. This was a hard time for the Americancommunity.
Biography says that “The dance world mourned the passing of one of its great pioneers. AlvinAiley “had a big heart and a tremendous love of the dance,” dancerMikhail Baryshnikov told The NewYork Times, adding, “His work made an important contribution toAmerican culture”” (Biography.com, Alvin Ailey, 2017). Judith Jamison took over therole of Assistant Director.
Keogh explains that “Ailey asked Jamison to take over as Artistic Director of theAAADT. She was the obvious choice, providing both continuity and a newdirection for the company” (Keogh, 2010). 1992 saw America hit recession,however due to worldwide popularity the company were able to remain financiallystable with Jamison.
1995 was a very successful time for the company. Newfacilities were added to the studio, including two new studios for the company.Judith Jamison made the company’s popularity increase again as they appeared inan advertising campaign for the American Express to discuss the company as awhole. In 1997, the company did a residency in South Africa, which is where thecompany first ever went on tour. The company went to promote multi-culturalism,which was the issue due to segregation. Jamison had a plan to inspire youngperformers, so the company and Fordham University joined together to create anew dance and art class.
This gave opportunities to the younger generation toreceive high quality dance training, as well as being inspired by Jamisonherself. 1999 marked the year the company’s name respectively changed to ‘AileyII’. They began to achieve equality throughout the institute and new AileyCamps were launched in Chicago and Bridgeport. In 2000, another Ailey campopened in Boston, which meant that the company were beginning to be exposed toother parts of the world, meaning their popularity again was rising. In 2002 Judithwas approached by the Salt Lake City to create a new ballet for the Olympics.Jamison was able to carry the Olympic torch, and represented America as a blackwoman.
From this she received the National medal of Arts from the President. In2005, Jamison decided to launch the ‘Ailey Extension’ so that members of the generalpublic and all abilities could join dance and fitness classes. The aim of thiswas to get the company known as a ‘household’ name. 2008 marked the company’s50th anniversary. This allowed them to appear on the very popular TVshow ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, and again made the company’s popularityincrease. Because of the ‘Ailey Extension’, over 35000 people had takenclasses, with a variety of techniques.
Different ethnicities and genders alltook part in these classes, which demonstrates how Ailey’s idea of having amulti-ethnic cast had carried on with Jamison. To conclude, both Alvin Aileyand Judith Jamison made improvements, increased popularity and made their ownadaptations to the company. They both individually advanced the company and createdmany successes, not only for the company but also for themselves. Jamisonallowed Ailey’s company to stay traditional and respected how Ailey would wanthis company to stay.