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Alvin Ailey

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Alvin Ailey by John Lindquist


Born in Rogers, Texas, Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) began his dance training as a teenager in Los Angeles with Lester Horton. In 1954 he made his Broadway debut in House of Flowers. Other Broadway shows followed, as well as appearances with Sophie Maslow, Anna Sokolow, and Donald McKayle. In 1958 he choreographed Blues Suite, inspired by memories of his Texas boyhood; two years later, with Revelations, he created a beloved modern dance classic. Ailey's best works drew on African-American traditions and subject matter. Masekela Language (1969), with a score by South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, depicted broken, weary lives in a roadside cafe, while Cry (1971), the solo dedicated to "black women everywhere" that made Judith Jamison a star, was set to gospel music. In the 1970s Ailey choreographed several works to music by Duke Ellington, a favorite composer. Founded in 1958 as a repertory ensemble for modern dance classics along with new works by Ailey and others, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre became one of the country's outstanding companies as well as a showcase for African-American talent. Ailey died in 1989 due to complications from AIDS. 

Pictured left: Dancer, choreographer and company founder Alvin Ailey expressed his artistic goals with the statement, "I wanted to explore black culture, and I wanted that culture to be a revelation." (Photograph by John Lindquist; © by Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library)


Essay by Thomas F. DeFrantz -- Selected resources

Related Treasures: African Americans in Dance -- Modern Dance Pioneers


Ailey Celebrates Ellington, New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, 1976.


Pictured right. Much of Ailey's work reflected and drew inspiration from African-American culture and life, including the jazz music of Duke Ellington. (Poster for the Alvin Ailey City Center Dance Theater. New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dance Division.)



Choreographed by Alvin Ailey and performed in 1986 by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ailey's signature work, set to African American spirituals, Revelations is estimated to have been viewed by more people worldwide than any other modern dance work.