Wednesday, July 21, 2021

A look at a master of dance


The great choreographer Alvin Ailey died of AIDS in 1989 — but neither his name nor his fame have diminished in the 32 years since his demise at the age of 58. The documentary Ailey uses an interview with Ailey and with figures from the dance world -- Judith JamisonBill T. JonesGeorge FaisonCarmen de Lavallade -- to bring the life and work of Ailey into contextualized focus. The movie opens in 1988. Cicely Tyson is seen paying homage to Ailey at a Kennedy Center Honors program. Tyson states the movie's theme: Ailey, she says, is both Black and universal. Director Jamila Wignot's documentary sets about proving  both halves of Tyson's statement. Another way to look at Tyson's remark would be to say that because Ailey's work deeply reflects Black culture and the conditions with which he was raised, it sounds notes of sorrow, celebration, and reverence that can touch any heart.  Ailey’s story demonstrates that the universal often derives from the particular. Ailey was born in Texas in 1931, moved to Los Angeles with his mother in 1942, and later to New York, where -- in 1958 -- he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Wignot devotes considerable time to the creation of Ailey's Revelations, a 1960 ballet regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century dance. We also learn about Ailey's company and how it viewed a director who felt at home with his dancers but maintained a distance that allowed him to create his vision. There are clips of dancing (now and then) and a view of Lazarus,  a piece that's being choreographed by Rennie Harris to celebrate the company's longevity and ongoing relevance. The company continues today under the direction of Robert Battlebut there's little doubt that it's Ailey's name that has become synonymous with inventive, groundbreaking dance, Black culture, and high artistic achievement.

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