Alvin Ailey

Founder

Alvin Ailey was born on January 5, 1931, in Rogers, Texas. His experiences of life in the rural South would later inspire some of his most memorable works. Mr. Ailey was introduced to dance in Los Angeles by performances of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, and his formal dance training began with an introduction to Lester Horton’s classes by his friend Carmen de Lavallade. Horton, the founder of one of the first racially-integrated dance companies in the United States, became a mentor for Mr. Ailey as he embarked on his professional career. After Horton’s death in 1953, Mr. Ailey became director of the Lester Horton Dance Theater and began to choreograph his own works. In the 1950s and 60s, Mr. Ailey performed in four Broadway shows, including House of Flowers and Jamaica

In 1958, he led a group of young black modern dancers in a performance in New York City that changed forever the perception of American dance.  Since then, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – a company dedicated to enriching the American modern dance heritage and preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience – has gone on to perform for an estimated 25 million people in 71 countries on six continents. 

When Mr. Ailey began creating dances, he drew upon his "blood memories" of Texas, the blues, spirituals and gospel as inspiration, which resulted in the creation of his popular and critically acclaimed must-see masterpiece Revelations. A few of his other notable works include 1958’s Blues Suite, his first masterpiece; Cry, the acclaimed tour-de-force female solo created for his mother in 1971; and several works set to music by jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Charlie “Bird” Parker, and Hugh Masekela.   

Although he created 79 ballets over his lifetime, Alvin Ailey maintained that his company was not exclusively a repository for his own work.  Today, the Company continues Mr. Ailey's mission by presenting important works of the past and commissioning new ones.  In all, more than 200 works by over 80 choreographers are part of the Ailey company’s repertoire.

His ballets have appeared in the repertories of major dance companies around the world, including American Ballet Theatre; The Joffrey Ballet; Dance Theatre of Harlem; Paris Opera Ballet; and La Scala Ballet, and he choreographed operas for the openings of such esteemed institutions as The Metropolitan Opera House (Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra in 1966 with Leontyne Price) and The Kennedy Center (Leonard Bernstein’s Mass in 1971). 

He established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (now The Ailey School) in 1969 and formed the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now Ailey II) in 1974. Mr. Ailey was a pioneer of programs advancing arts in education, and the final program he launched before his passing in 1989 was AileyCamp – a full-scholarship summer day camp for young people ages 11 – 14 in underserved communities, now in 10 cities nationwide. 

Throughout his lifetime, Alvin Ailey received numerous honors and awards, including several honorary doctoral degrees, a 1976 NAACP Spingarn Award, and a 1982 United Nations Peace Medal. From the dance world, he received the 1975 Dance Magazine Award, the 1979 Capezio Award and modern dance’s most prestigious prize—the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award—in 1987. In 1988, he received the Kennedy Center Honor in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to American culture and achievement in the performing arts. He was posthumously awarded by President Obama the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom – the country’s highest civilian honor – in recognition of his contributions and commitment to civil rights and dance in America, as well as the 2017 Logo Trailblazer Honor, celebrating him as a leader at the forefront of LGBTQ equality. He was also the subject of Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance, Jennifer Dunning’s moving 1998 biography and the critically-praised documentary Ailey, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. 

When Mr. Ailey died on December 1, 1989, The New York Times said of him, “you didn’t need to have known [him] personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm, and exuberance and his courageous stand for multi-racial brotherhood.”

Featured News Releases

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Presents Ailey Forward - First-Ever Virtual Season Celebrating Six Decades Of Revelations December 2 - 31, 2020

New York – November 10, 2020 – This holiday season, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will continue a tradition of uplifting and uniting audiences across the globe with a free virtual engagement celebrating six decades of Revelations, thanks to the generous support of Bank of America. Nine special presentations extending from December 2 – 31 will each be available online for a one-week period and open to all. Ailey’s extraordinary dancers will elevate a legacy of innovation and excellence in artistry with a reimagined season featuring premieres by Ailey’s Resident Choreographer Jamar Roberts; and Associate Artistic Director Matthew Rushing, in partnership with Company member and Assistant to the Rehearsal Director Clifton Brown, and former Company member Yusha-Marie Sorzano; a variety of other distinct programs; and a series of BattleTalk conversations, moderated by Artistic Director Robert Battle.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Invites Viewers To Enjoy Family Programs During Ailey Forward - First-Ever Virtual Season Celebrating Six Decades Of Revelations

New York – December 4, 2020 – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater invites families around the world to gather for special family programming during Ailey Forward – the Company’s first-ever virtual holiday season. Led by Artistic Director Robert Battle, Ailey’s extraordinary dancers will elevate a legacy of artistic innovation and excellence while celebrating six decades of Alvin Ailey’s timeless Revelations. Nine presentations through the holidays, each available free online for a week, carry on the tradition of uplifting audiences and making dance accessible to all with engaging family-friendly programs and interactive experiences to uplift and unite across generations.

Ailey Ascending 60th Anniversary Celebration Honors Groundbreaking Founder While Taking Bold New Leaps To Elevate Organization's Reach And Impact

August 1, 2018 (NEW YORK CITY) —When Alvin Ailey and a small group of African American modern dancers first took the stage in 1958, appearing at New York City’s 92nd Street Y, the engagement was for one night only—but it turned out to be the start of a new era in the performing arts. Mr. Ailey became one of the groundbreaking greats in African American history, while the work of his Company grew beyond the limits of the stage to encompass education at all levels, community outreach and cultural diplomacy. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater now embodies six decades of achievement, celebrating the human spirit with performances that unite and inspire all.

Featured Press Coverage

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The New Yorker - Goings On About Town

Every December, the dancers of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre fill the City Center stage, night after night, with their joy, very, and technical prowess. Traditionally, most of those performances end with "Revelations," Ailey's signature work from 1960. Ailey's virtual season kicks off, on Dec. 2, with an online gala, featuring excerpts from "Revelations," filmed outdoors at Wave Hill, in the Bronx.

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PIX 11 - Alvin Ailey Launches Livestream To Commemorate Iconic Work

The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater has become a cultural landmark in the world of dance. For the last six decades, dancers from the iconic company have performed signature masterpieces all over the globe. Now as we celebrate the holidays during these unprecedented times, the theater debuts its first virtual engagement to honor one of its classic ballets called Revelations.

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The New York Times - Alvin Ailey Announces December Season

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is the latest company to move ahead with new work while performing arts spaces remain almost completely shut down in New York. The troupe's monthlong December season will include a world premiere from Jamar Roberts, Ailey's choreographer in residence, and the debut of a collaborative response to Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" by Matthew Rushing, Clifton Brown and Yusha-Marie Sorzano.