Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater coming to TPAC

Alvin Ailey (Photo by Eric N. Hong)

The gifted dancers of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will inspire audiences in exciting premieres, new productions, and Alvin Ailey’s must-see American Masterpiece Revelations during a special one-evening engagement at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Hall on Wednesday, March 14, 2018.

Alvin Ailey’s Masterpiece Revelations debuted in 1960, with choreography by Alvin Ailey and the music of traditional spirituals. More than just a popular dance work, Revelations has become a cultural treasure, beloved by generations of fans. An American classic acclaimed as a must‐see for all, Alvin Ailey’s signature masterpiece is a tribute to his heritage and genius. Using African-American spirituals, the work fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul. Seeing Revelations for the first time or the hundredth can be a transcendent experience, with audiences cheering, singing along and dancing in their seats from the opening notes of the plaintive “I Been ’Buked” to the rousing “Wade in the Water” and the triumphant finale, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”

Following a five-week season launch in New York City, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will continue to grace stages from coast to coast during a 21-city North American tour which began January 30, 2018 in Chapel Hill, NC. Artistic Director Robert Battle leads Ailey’s 32 extraordinary dancers as they continue the Company’s legacy of using the African-American cultural experience and the American modern dance tradition to uplift, unite and enlighten. The tour’s expansive repertory, which varies from city to city, includes dynamic works by some of the freshest choreographic voices in modern dance.

The tour would be incomplete without Alvin Ailey’s American masterpiece Revelations which has been seen by more audiences around the world than any other modern work since its creation in 1960, inspiring generations through its powerful storytelling and soul-stirring spirituals. Springing from Ailey’s childhood memories of growing up in the south and attending services at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Texas, Revelations pays homage to the rich cultural heritage of the African-American and explores the emotional spectrum of the human condition. Revelations has been performed as part of Opening Ceremonies of the 1968 Olympics, for six sitting presidents at various events, at the inaugurations of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and at The White House Dance Series: A Tribute to Judith Jamison, presented by then-First Lady Michelle Obama. Acknowledging its lasting significance after five decades, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution recognizing the artistic and cultural contributions of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the 50th Anniversary of the first performance of Revelations. Hailed by The New York Times as “modern dance’s unquestionable greatest hit,” this American masterpiece was choreographed when Alvin Ailey was only 29 years old and is as relevant now as ever.

Nearly 60 years after its founding, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continues to move forward under the leadership of Robert Battle, revealing once again why it remains one of the world’s most beloved dance companies. Come see why The Chicago Sun-Times called the Company “more electrifying than ever.”

Revelations Choreography: Alvin Ailey Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (Credit Photo: Paul Kolnik)

Black History Spotlight: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, recognized by U.S. Congressional resolution as a vital American “Cultural Ambassador to the World,” grew from a now‐fabled March 1958 performance in New York that changed forever the perception of American dance. Founded by Alvin Ailey, recent posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor, and guided by Judith Jamison beginning in 1989, the Company is now led by Robert Battle, whom Judith Jamison chose to succeed her on July 1, 2011.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has performed for an estimated 25 million people in 71 countries on six continents – as well as millions more through television broadcasts, film screenings and online platforms – promoting the uniqueness of the African‐American cultural experience and the preservation and enrichment of the American modern dance tradition. In addition to being the Principal Dance Company of New York City Center, where its performances have become a year‐end tradition, the Ailey company performs annually at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami‐Dade County in Miami, The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, CA and at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark (where it is the Principal Resident Affiliate), and appears frequently in other major theaters throughout the United States and the world during extensive yearly tours.

The Ailey organization also includes Ailey II (1974), a second performing company of emerging young dancers and innovative choreographers; The Ailey School (1969), one of the most extensive dance training programs in the world; Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs, which brings dance into the classrooms, communities and lives of people of all ages; and The Ailey Extension (2005), a program offering dance and fitness classes to the general public, which began with the opening of Ailey’s permanent home—the largest building dedicated to dance in New York City, the dance capital of the world —named The Joan Weill Center for Dance, at 55th Street at 9th Avenue in New York City.

Black History Spotlight: Alvin Ailey (1931 – 1989)

Alvin Ailey was born on January 5, 1931, in Rogers, Texas, and became one of the leading figures in 20th century modern dance. His mother was only a teenager when he was born and his father left the family early on. He grew up poor in the small Texas town of Navasota. At the age of 12, he left Texas for Los Angeles, where he proved to be a gifted student in many ways. He excelled at languages and athletics. After seeing the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo perform, Ailey was inspired to pursue dancing. He began studying modern dance with Lester Horton in 1949. He joined Horton’s dance company the following year.

In 1954, Ailey made his Broadway debut in Truman Capote’s short-lived musical House of Flowers. The following year, he also appeared in The Carefree Tree. Ailey served as the lead dancer in another Broadway musical, Jamaica, starring Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalban in 1957. While in New York, Ailey also had a chance to study dance with Martha Graham and acting with Stella Adler.

Ailey achieved his greatest fame with his own dance company, which he founded in 1958. That same year, he debuted Blues Suite, a piece that drew from his southern roots. Another of his major early works was Revelations, which drew inspiration from the African American music of his youth. The blues, spirituals and gospel songs all informed this dance piece. According to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater website, Revelations came from Ailey’s “‘blood memories’ of his childhood in rural Texas and the Baptist Church.”

In the 1960s, Ailey took his company on the road. The U.S. State Department sponsored his tour, which helped create his international reputation. He stopped performing in the mid-1960s, but he continued to choreograph numerous masterpieces. Ailey’s Masakela Language, which probed the experience being black in South Africa, premiered in 1969. He also formed the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center—now called the Ailey School—that same year.

In 1974, Ailey used the music of Duke Ellington as the backdrop for Night Creature. He also expanded his dance company by establishing the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble that same year. During his long career, Ailey choreographed close to 80 ballets.

In 1988, Alvin Ailey was honored by the Kennedy Center for his contributions to the arts. This prestigious accolade came near the end of his life. Ailey died at the age of 58 on December 1, 1989, at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. At the time, The New York Times reported that he had suffered from “terminal blood dyscrasia, a rare disorder that affects the bone marrow and red blood cells.” It was later revealed that Ailey had died of AIDS.

The dance world mourned the passing of one of its great pioneers. Alvin Ailey “had a big heart and a tremendous love of the dance,” dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov told The New York Times, adding, “His work made an important contribution to American culture.”

Despite his untimely death, Ailey continues to be an important figure in the arts through the ballets he created and the organizations he founded. The dancers with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater have performed for more than 20 million people around the world and countless others have seen their work through numerous television broadcasts.