The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater grew from the now fabled performance in March 1958, at the 92nd Street Young Men’s Hebrew Association in New York.
Led by Alvin Ailey and a group of young African-American modern dancers, that performance changed forever the perception of American dance.
Today, led by Artistic Director, Judith Jamison, AAADT has gone on to perform for an estimated 21 million people in 48 states and in 71 countries on six continents, including two historic residencies in South Africa.
The company has earned a reputation as one of the most acclaimed international ambassadors of American culture, promoting the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience and the preservation and enrichment of the American modern dance.
Born in Rogers, Texas on January 5th, 1931, Alvin Ailey was introduced to dance by performances of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. His formal dance training began with an introduction to Lester Horton’s classes by his friend, Carmen de Lavallade.
When Mr. Ailey began creating dance, he 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-Revelations.
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 to add to the repertoire. In all, more than 200 works by over 70 choreographers have been performed by The Ailey.
In 1989, after the death of Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamison was appointed Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ms. Jamison wrote in her autobiography, Dancing Spirit, “I hope I’m a continuation of Alvin’s vision. He has left me a road map. It’s very clear. It works.”
Judith Jamison was appointed Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in December 1989 at the request of her mentor, Alvin Ailey. A native of Philadelphia, she studied with Marion Cuyjet, was discovered by Agnes de Mille and made her New York debut with American Ballet Theatre in 1964. She became a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1965 and danced with the company for 15 years to great acclaim. Recognizing her extraordinary talent, Mr. Ailey created some of his most enduring roles for her, most notably the tour de force solo, Cry.
After leaving the Company in 1980, Ms. Jamison appeared as a guest artist with ballet companies all over the world and starred in the hit Broadway musical Sophisticated Ladies. In 1988, she formed her own company, The Jamison Project; a PBS special depicting her creative process, Judith Jamison: The Dancemaker, aired nationally the same year.
As a highly regarded choreographer, Ms. Jamison has created works for many companies. Love Stories, with additional choreography by Robert Battle and Rennie Harris, is her most recent ballet. In 2002, HERE . . .NOW. was commissioned for the Cultural Olympiad. She choreographed Double Exposure for the Lincoln Center Festival in July 2000. Divining (1984), Rift (1991), Riverside (1995), Sweet Release (1996) Echo: Far From Home (1998) and Hymn (1993), her stirring tribute to Mr. Ailey, are other major works she has choreographed for the Company.
Ms. Jamison is a master teacher, lecturer and author. Her autobiography, Dancing Spirit, was edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and published by Doubleday in 1993. She is the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, including a prime time Emmy Award and an American Choreography Award for Outstanding Choreography in the PBS “Great Performances: Dance In America” special, A Hymn for Alvin Ailey, and an honorary doctorate from Howard University. In December 1999, Ms. Jamison was presented with the Kennedy Center Honor, recognizing her lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. In 2001, she received the Algur H. Meadows Award from Southern Methodist University and was presented with a National Medal of Arts, the most prestigious award presented to artists in the United States. Ms. Jamison carried the Olympic torch during the relay prior to the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City in 2002. In 2003, she received the “Making a Difference” Award by the NAACP ACT-SO. Most recently, Ms. Jamison received the Paul Robeson award from the Actors’ Equity Association in recognition for her outstanding contribution to the Performing Arts and commitment to the right of all people to live in dignity and peace.
Today, Judith Jamison presides over a renewed Ailey organization, artistically and fiscally invigorated. Her presence has been a catalyst, propelling the organization in new directions – the development of the Women’s Choreography Initiative; performances at the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Cultural Olympiad; and two unprecedented engagements in South Africa. Most recently, she lead the Company on a tour of mainland China, the Company’s first visit there in almost 20 years. Ms. Jamison has continued Mr. Ailey’s practice of showcasing the talents of emerging choreographers from within the ranks of the Company. As Artistic Director of The Ailey School, official school of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, she has helped to implement a multicultural curriculum including salsa and the dances of West Africa and South India. She is an advocate for education in the arts and was a guiding force in establishing the B.F.A. program with The Ailey School and Fordham University, which offers a unique combination of world-class dance training and a superior liberal arts education. Following the tradition of Alvin Ailey, Ms. Jamison is dedicated to asserting the prominence of the arts in our culture, spearheading initiatives to bring dance into the community and programs that introduce children to the arts. She remains committed to promoting the significance of the Ailey legacy–dance as a medium for honoring the past, celebrating the present and fearlessly reaching into the future. The recent move to Ailey’s permanent home, a state-of-the-art building located at 55th Street and 9th Avenue, was a realization of a long-awaited dream.