Alvin Ailey Dance Theater turns 50

March 26, 2008 9:00:00 PM PDT
Let the celebration begin! The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is turning 50. The festivities kicked off in March, and Eyewitness News reporter Kemberly Richardson was there.

And for the next 18 months, everyone will have the unique opportunity to experience all that is Alvin Ailey.

Since it's beginning, the troup has performed in 71 countries for roughly 21 million people. And now, Congress has passed a resolution officially naming Ailey a cultural ambassador to the world.

"Alvin said, 'Doors are not opening for me, I'm going to open this door,'" Alvin Ailey artistic director Judith Jamison said. "And open those doors he did."

It all began at the 92nd Street YMCA. It was March of 1958, and the world got its first taste of the Ailey experience.

The performance of "Blues Suite" set in motion a mighty change, conceptualized by Alvin Ailey. It was an awakening that still exists today, thanks in large part to Jamison, who danced and studied with Ailey.

"This is so important, the swath that he left here, this path that he left," she said. "He was showing us a different way that we could express ourselves, and that we could also celebrate the history of modern dance in our country."

The troupe is now celebrating a milestone, its 50th anniversary. They are remembering Ailey's motto, that this is a shared experience, a reciprocal exchange between the dancers and the audience.

Sylvia Waters joined the company in 1968. She now runs Ailey II with a sense of pride, handed down by Ailey.

"It kept me focused, very riveted," she said. "And with all the tumultuous energy and then Alvin's generousity. We really were a family."

In 1989, the world mourned the death of Alvin Ailey. But it in no way said goodbye to his genius or what he created. It is an ever-changing entity with a common thread.

"It will remain in the hearts of people," dancer Rachael McLaren said. "As long as we remember we have to stick to the understanding that we dance from someone deep within."

It represents a passing of the torch, for which, if she could, McLaren would thank Ailey.

"Dance is something I couldn't live without," she said. "So I just thank you for everything that he selflessly has given to everyone."

This Sunday, dozens of churches all over our area will take part in the 50th anniversary celebrations. Jamison will be at Abyssinian, where there will be a performance. And for the next 18 months, there are many other special events going on.

For more on the anniversary events, CLICK HERE.

For information on free performances, CLICK HERE.

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