Saturday, February 7, 2009

Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey, Jr. (5 January 1931 – 1 December 1989) was an American modern dancer, choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on 92nd Street in New York City. Ailey is one of the most important choreog­raphers in the history of modern dance. His body of work shaped African American participation in American modern dance dur­ing the thirty-year period before his death. The [[Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater] popularized modern dance throughout the world with his international tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Because of these tours it is theorized that Ailey's choreographical masterpiece Revelations is the most well-known and frequently seen modern dance performance. Early years Ailey was born to his 17-year-old mother, Lula Cooper, in Rogers, Texas. His father abandoned the family when Alvin was only a few months old. Like many African-Americans living in Texas during the Great Depression Ailey's mother strug­gled to find work and moved often because of it. Ailey grew up during a time of racial segregation in Texas. Rumors of lynchings against African-Americans and the rape of his mother by white men when he was five made him fearful of whites. Constant postiive influences came from black social institutions such as the Southern Baptist church and juke joints instilled in him a fierce black pride. These early experiences would go on to figure prominently in Ailey's signature works.[1][2] In 1943, Ailey's mother secured work in an aircraft factory in Los Angeles, California. Upon arrival in California Ailey's first Junior High School was located in a primarily white school district. As one of the only black students, Ailey felt out of place and so the Aileys moved to a different predominantly black district. He matriculated into George Washington Carver Junior High School and later, the Thomas Jefferson High School. School was a sanctuary for Ailey. Despite having an athletic build, he spent long hours in the library reading and writing poetry. He was able to avoid both contact sports and being viewed as effeminate by taking up gymnastics. Ailey first encountered concert dance in movies. He was attracted to the glamor of stars such as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. He sang spirituals in the glee club, wrote poetry, and proved to have an affinity for foreign languages. It was during this period that he discovered his ho­mosexuality, further alienating him from his peers. He briefly studied tap dancing and tried the “primitive dance” taught by Dunham dancer Thelma Robinson in a seedy downtown night club. Ailey found the experience unpleasant and turned to modern dance when a friend introduced him to the Hollywood dance theater of Lester Horton in 1949. Horton would prove to be Ailey's major influence, giving him both a technique and foundation with with to grow artistically. His all black school as well as the entertainment districts on Central Avenue and in Downtown Los Angeles provided Ailey with more positive examples of African-American performance. He regularly attended shows at Lincoln Theater and the Orpheum Theater where he saw jazz greats Count Basie, Pearl Bailey, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and Pigmeat Markham. It was during this time that he was introduced to dance by performances of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. [edit] College and Beyond He briefly studied tap and took dance lessons from a member of Duhham's company but wasn't entirely comfortable with either style. He joined a friend from at Horton's school. Horton taught a wide range of dance styles and techniques from classical ballet to Native American dance. Horton's school was also the first multi-racial dance school in the U.S. Ailey at first displayed ambivilence towards becoming a professional dancer. Ailey studied Romance languages at various Universities in California but his was restless academicly. In college he also studied the writings of James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Carson McCullers. Ailey moved to San Francisco in 1951 to continue college where he met Margareurite Angelos (Maya Angelou). They performed occasionally performed a nightclub act called nightclub act called "Al and Rita." Ailey earned a living waiting tables and dancing at the New Orleans Champagne Supper Club. Ailey was restless academically and ultimately returned to study dance with Horton in southern California. [edit] The Horton Dance Company At twenty-two Ailey began full-time study at Horton's school. He joined Horton's company in 1953 performed in Horton's company, making his debut in Horton's Revue Le Bal Caribe. It was also during this period that he performed in several Hollywood films. Ailey kept his life as a dancer a secret from his mother for the first two years. When she came to his dressing room and saw him in stage makeup for the first time, she slapped him in the face. Horton's sudden death in November of 1953 left the company with out an artistic director. The company had outstanding contracts that required new works. When no one else steppe forward, Ailey assumed the role of artistic director of the company. Despite his youth and inexperience (Ailey was only twenty-two and had only choreographed one dance in a workshop) Ailey began choreographing, directing scene and costume designs and running rehearsals. Ailey designed his first piece to pay homage to Horton. It was arranged in such a way as to showcase James Truitte's physical strength and Carmen de Lavallade's beauty and dramatic abilities. [edit] New York Ailey and de Lavallade had a small part in the filmCarmen Jones which was choreo­graphed by Herbert Ross. The Horton Company performed Ailey's com­mercial choreography on the television programs Party at Ciro's, the Red Skelton Show, and the Jack Benny Show. Ailey and de Lavallade moved to New York in December 1954 to appear in the Broadway musical House of Flowers written by Truman Capote. He also appeared in Sing, Man, Sing (1956) with Harry Belafonte, and with Lena Horne in Jamaica (1957). The New York modern dance scene in the fifties was not to Ailey's taste. He observed the classes of modern dance contemporaries such as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and José Limón. He felt Graham's dancing was "finicky and strange" and disliked the techniques of both Humphrey and Limón. Ailey expressed disappointment in not being able to find a technique similar to Horton's. Not finding a mentor, he began creating works of his own. [3][4] [edit] Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Ailey formed his own group, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in 1957 which presented its inaugural concert on March 30, 1958. Works of note presented at this time include Blues Suite, a work deriving from blues songs. Ailey's choreography was a dynamic and vibrant mix of his previous training in ballet, modern dance, jazz, and African dance techniques. Ailey also insisted upon a complete theatricality including costumes, lighting and make-up. A work of intense emotional appeal expressing the pain and anger of African Americans,Blues Suite was an instant success and defined Ailey's style. For his signature work, Revelations, Ailey drew upon his "blood memories" of Texas, the blues, spirituals, and gospel as inspiration, which resulted in the creation of his most popular and critically acclaimed work. Ailey originally intended for the dance to be the second part of a larger, evening-length survey of African-American music which he began with Blues Suite. Through Ailey created 79 works for his company, Ailey maintained that his company was not repository for his own work. Today, the company continues Mr. Ailey's vision by performing important works from the past and commissioning new ones to add to the repertoire. In all, More than 200 works by over 70 choreographers have been performed by the Company. Ailey took pride in the fact that his company was multi-racial. While, he wanted to give black dancers, who were frequently discriminated against by the racist attitudes of his contemporaries, an opportunity to dance; at the same time, he also wanted to rise above issues of negritude. His company always employed artists based solely on artistic talent and integrity regardless of their race Ailey continued to create work for his own company, he also choreographed for other companies. In 1962 the U.S. State Department sponsored The Alvin Ailey Dance Company's first overseas tour. Ailey was suspicious of his company's benefactors motives. He questioned whether their motives were propagandistic, seeking to display a distorted attitude of tolerance by showcasing a modern Negro dance group. In 1970, Ailey was honored by being commissioned to create The River for American Ballet Theatre. The River used the music of Duke Ellington. Ailey viewed this as a chance to work with some of the best ballet dancers in the world, particularly with the great dramatic ballerina Sallie Wilson. ABT, however, insisted that the leading male role be danced by the only black man, despite Ailey and other contemporaries misgivings about said dancer's talent. Cry (1971), was one of Ailey's greatest successes. He dedicated to his mother and black women everywhere. It became a signature piece for Judith Jamison. [edit] Personal Life Alvin Ailey died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 58.[5] To spare his mother the social stigma of his death of AIDS, Ailey asked his doctor to announce that he had died of terminal blood Dyscrasia.[6] Courtesy of:

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