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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Turns Fifty

by Marian Horosko
November 12, 2008
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430
It was a gigantic undertaking, but only the beginning for its 50th anniversary: more than 30,000 people attended a series of free performances and classes in all the boroughs and at an all-day street party at New York City Center as a kick-off for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's 5-week anniversary celebration, December 3-January 4, 2009.

Founded in 1958, the company created by Texas-born Ailey (1931-1989), has performed before more than 21 million people in 71 countries and on 6 continents. Fortunately Ailey's talent was recognized early and he studied in California with the undervalued and extraordinary Lester Horton, who was a teacher, choreographer, creator of a unique modern dance technique, who gave performances regularly in modest circumstances overseeing all aspects of the productions.

Ailey eventually studied with Martha Graham, Hanya Holm and Charles Weidman in New York, classical ballet with Karol Shook and acting with Stella Adler. As a performer, Ailey had the grace of a tiger, full of stealth and soft movements, powerful but not aggressive, his emotions were centered within, and his presence onstage was so magnetic it was impossible to watch anyone else.
His image remains in the mind's eye.

Dudley Williams, as well, in his touching "I Wanna Be Ready," solo was unforgettable in "Revelations," now seen by more people throughout the world than any other dance work in all time. Williams brought his artistry to this work of a man tortured by his unworthiness inspired, probably, by his experience in the Graham company's mantra of "living the moment." Often it looks similar to Pilates mat work. Through the pervasive emphasis on athleticism in dance, the evolution in body types and the temptations of success, the work has moved from its reverence and joy to being performed as if the finale of a Broadway musical. Ah, well.

But there are revivals of Ailey masterworks to come: "Blues Suite" and "Masekela Language," as well as George Faison's "Suite Otis," and excerpts from works by Louis Falco and Talley Beatty. Another work, this one hard to cast, because it takes a serene female performer, is Ailey's 1972 solo, "The Lark Ascending," to Vaughan Williams' music of the same name.

World premieres, as well are planned: Hope Boykin, a former AAADT member, has created "Go in Grace," to "Sweet Honey on the Rock" and a work by Italian choreographer, Mauro Bigonzetti, artistic director of Aterballetto, whose "Il Vento," created as a pas deux for New York City Ballet, was a sensation in 2006. He is immensely musical and seamlessly melds ballet and modern dance vocabulary.

There's more to this celebration at City Center with the appearance of celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Wynton Marsalis with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Jessye Norman and other personalities. A tribute to Sylvia Walters, artistic director of Ailey II (the second, smaller company of pre-professional young dancers) for 40 years and an Ailey original, will be held on December 16.

Ticket prices are reasonable. Contact: www.alvinailey.org for more details or www.nycitycenter.org.

Recommended: "A Life in Dance," biography of Alvin Ailey by Jennifer Dunning, 1996.
Linda Celeste Sims

Linda Celeste Sims

Photo © & courtesy of Edward Patina

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