After a year of solo practices and virtual performances, dancers are back on stage doing what they do best: performing in front of live audiences. But for some of the field’s biggest and most transformative stars, choreographing the future of an art form steeped in tradition means leaving some things in the past.
The documentary "Ailey" tells the story of the late Alvin Ailey, who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958. Host Robin Young speaks with the film's director Jamila Wignot and Judith Jamison, a dancer and artistic director emerita of Alvin Ailey's company.
At the beginning of “Ailey” – the documentary about iconic choreographer Alvin Ailey, which opens in New York today – greatness recognizes greatness when Cicely Tyson calls him the “Pied Piper of modern dance” at his 1988 Kennedy Center Honors induction. And for this master of movement – who founded the internationally renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company in New York in 1958 – it was all about brining black people to the traditionally white world of dance.
Too often, the idea of Alvin Ailey is reduced to a single dance: “Revelations.” His 1960 exploration of the Black experience remains a masterpiece, but it also overshadows the person who made it. How can an artist grow after such early success? Who was Alvin Ailey the man? In “Ailey,” the director Jamila Wignot layers images, video and – most important – voiceovers from Alvin Ailey to create a portrait that feels as poetic and nuanced as choreography itself.
The documentary “Ailey,” opening nationwide in theaters Aug. 6, is a long-overdue portrait of the modern dance pioneer. Alvin Ailey died in 1989 at age 58, but, significantly, much of the Insignia Films documentary was filmed in 2018 at a New York dance studio near a street named Alvin Ailey Place. As we watch a new generation of Ailey dancers taking direction from hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris, it’s as though Alvin Ailey never really left; he and his company have always evolved to meet the times.
Tremaine Emory is no stranger to designer collaborations. As a consultant, the omni-talented artist has advised the likes of Kanye West and Frank Ocean and collaborated with brands such as Nike, Adidas, Levi’s and Stüssy. Now, the No Vacancy Inn co-founder and FACE family member has added yet another string to his bow: a super-slick collaboration with Champion. Due to launch in September, the Champion Tears collection takes influence from both the sportswear brand’s archives and one of the giants of 20th century dance: Alvin Ailey. Founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York – and one of the most important figures in honouring Black culture through dance – the whole thing is brought to life in a film by director, dancer and star of A24’s upcoming Zola, Taylour Paige.
Uplift is what people expect from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. And so its no surprise that for its spring gala – this spring all springs – the company focused explicitly on themes of hope, promise and future. What’s pledged is delivered, with much of the rottenness that comes with reliability. But the Ailey company’s official hope doesn’t entirely eclipse a more troubled and therefore more trustworthy kind, supplied mostly by the troupe’s increasingly important resident choreographer, Jamar Roberts.
Expressions of Pride take many forms. Kemberly Richardson introduces us to Alvin Ailey dancer Chalvar Monteiro who exudes pride in performance and choreography for his new work premiering at the Ailey Spring Gala.
On Thursday, June 24, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater held its annual Ailey Spring Gala—this year a tribute to Washington, D.C. that drew guests including Michelle Obama, Alicia Keys, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III, and Congressman James E. Clyburn. The evening honored the late Congressman John Lewis and featured three premieres, including “Hope” by Ghrai DeVore-Stokes, “Promise” by Chalvar Monteiro, and “Future” byt Kanji Segawa, as well as excerpts from In Memory, a film by Ailey resident choreographer Jamar Roberts and “For Four,” a filmed dance choreographed by artistic director Robert Battle.
Tremaine Emory aims to incite reform from the inside out, utilizing platforms offered by giant conglomerates to recontextuali ze inequity and consider lingering effects of discrimination on Black America. Emory's latest move is in alignment with sportswear giant Champion, lionizing Alvin Ailey and his legendary Dance Theater in line with the forthcoming documentary film that explores Ailey's life and legacy.