Memory was the anchor of famed choreographer Alvin Ailey’s work, the fuel behind the joy and restraint in his massively successful fusion of Black culture, theater and modern dance in the 20th century. That’s what those who knew and worked with him say in new documentary “Ailey,” which examines Ailey’s life and explores how to best remember a man who died more than 30 years ago but still lives on in the steps of those learning the moves he committed to dance doctrine.
The Ailey Organization
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.
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.
This year’s Tribeca Film Festival includes two documentaries about truly legendary performers. In many ways, the films echo each other: They’re both about children of the Depression, artists whose struggles against racial oppression made them “firsts” in their fields, artists who have won both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and are Kennedy Center Honorees. The films themselves shine like medals around the artists’ necks: Love — or worship — sits at the core of each project. (These are deferential, at times often promotional documents.) But Jamila Wignot’s Ailey and Mariem Pérez Riera’s Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It are alike in another way too. They both demonstrate the limitations of trying to explicate genius. Talking heads can honor Alvin Ailey’s choreography; they can pay tribute to Rita Moreno’s spirit of tungsten steel. But neither documentary can really draw us inside its object — Ailey because the man himself is gone (and hard to know when he lived); Rita because her stories have already been polished to a high diamond shine.
From “The Painter and the Thief” to “Apollo 11” and “Gunda,” Neon is proving to be a rich home to documentary film. The latest entry from the distributor is Jamila Wignot’s “Ailey,” a documentary about multi-hyphenate dancer, choreographer, director, and activist Alvin Ailey, who up until his death in 1989 inspired generations of dancers and founded the towering Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. “Ailey,” which first premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews, releases on July 23 in theaters.
Dance Informa - Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs Offers 'Revelations' Virtual Dance Workshop Series
Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs has announced an inspiring new virtual series that expands available Remote Learning Activities for schools and organizations looking for alternatives to in-person dance classes and residencies, supplements to physical education offerings, or to provide an engaging extracurricular activity for students. Launching during Black History Month as Alvin Ailey’s signature American masterpiece Revelations marks six decades, Revelations Virtual Dance Workshop Series furthers Ailey’s mission of using dance to inspire, enlighten and entertain people of all backgrounds and ages.
The impact of COVID-19 has crippled the arts community, but art gives us the power to rejoice and has the power to unify. Robert Battle, the Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater reminds us of the history of excellence in Black theater, and the healing power of the arts.