In celebration of what would have been Alvin Ailey’s 85th birthday, dancers and dance lovers gathered at the Ailey Extension for a panel titled “Celebrating the Life of Alvin Ailey”, giving us the history of the dance company, veteran dancer’s relationship with Mr. Ailey and insight on how the company is keeping his legacy alive.
Renee Robinson moderated the panel with former company member Donna Wood, Ailey II’s Artistic Director Emerita Sylvia Waters and Artistic Director Emerita, Judith Jamison. The women started by sharing the story of how they met Mr. Ailey and the paths taken to becoming members of the company.
The conversation continued to discuss the company’s early years of members riding in buses from city to city, staying in motels and forming their own “dance family”. With all of the tours taken throughout the US and the world, all agreed Mr. Ailey’s favorite city was Paris.
Company members didn’t feel they were “official” until learning one of Alvin Ailey’s greatest works Revelations. The ladies described it as allowing them to express the “depth, humanity and spiritual journey of the songs” through dance. When teaching new choreography, Mr. Ailey often gave a story behind the characters, sometimes developing the story as the collaboration of choreography progressed between members.
Although steps were given, he always wanted the dancer to reach out of their comfort zone and express a personal freedom of the dance to make it their own. Each member brought their individuality to each piece, but the group always moved as one.
It was truly a beautiful night. One thing that holds true to the Ailey company to this day is adapting a process of excellence, as members and students are encouraged to implement Mr. Ailey’s view that ‘…dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.’ For more information on upcoming classes within NYC or tour information, visit alvinailey.org.