A look at Ailey's signature dances

February 24, 2009 1:07:10 PM PST
Alvin Ailey is celebrating 50 years of American dance.Now, we took a look at the theater's signature dances

Link to Much More on Alvin Ailey and the American Dance Theater *

Interview with Judith Jamison

*ABC7 Celebrates Black History Month

"Fifty years is a very long time, not measured in terms of time, but it is measured in terms of intricate steps unexpected turns and improbable leaps of faith," Oprah Winfrey said at the dance company's 50th celebration.

They are all soaring movements that have endured and enticed audiences to come see the Ailvin Ailey dance company again and again.

They flock, like music lovers to a rock concert , but instead of clamoring to hear "Freebird," they're hoping to see "Revelations."

It is the troupe's most famous dance.

"'Revelations,' of course, that's our classic work," Artistic Director Judith Jamison said. "That ballet has been done probably more than any other modern dance. Everyone requests it."

Using African American religious music, the piece ranges in emotion from grief to joy and symbolizes the tradition of going to worship.

"I remember seeing 'Revelations' and seeing the baptismal scene," Ailey dancer Matthew Rush said. "I was just recently baptized, and I had never seen my life on stage."

Another favorite,"Cry," was choreographed by Ailey for Jamison. The work pays tribute to all black women, especially mothers.

"When 'Cry' hit, that really hit," Jamison said. "Alvin had worked on this piece for something like six or eight days. He couldn't find the Alice Coltrane music until the last minute, and it was dedicated to all black women, and it was his mother's birthday. I didn't know all that. We were just working on a piece, but when 'Cry' hit, woo, that did it."

Along with "Revelations," "The River" and "Blues Suite" top the list of requests when the troupe travels throughout the country and abroad.

"It sort of raises the level of what you expected on stage, because they are incredibly strong and powerful, but can also act and play a role and put something across the way a Broadway performer would," said Wendy Perron, of "Dance Magazine."

Critics say one of the reasons Ailey pieces are so popular is that they are theatrical in nature, always telling a story of the human experience.

It is a task dancers find challenging and rewarding. The audience finds it enriching.

"You can relate to the individuals you're seeing on stage, because you see yourself in one of the dancers on the stage," Ailey dancer Glenn Simms said.

"I have grown so much from being in this company," Ailey dancer Courtney Corbin said. "It's just made me get out there and talk to people in a different way."

During this, the 50th anniversary season, the troupe thrilled audiences at Manhattan's City Center by doing the classics to live music. Using local musicians for "Revelations" and collaborating with "Jazz at Lincoln Center" and "Sweet Honey in the Rock," they brought new electricity to some oldies but goodies.

"I think it heightens the experience for the dancers, as well as the audience members," Rush said. "And it makes you perform at a higher level, because there's a whole other energy level on stage."

"Ailey's work is so appreciated around the world, and it's so wonderful to have over 250 ballets in the repertory," Jamison said.

In Ailey's world, neither land nor language was a barrier. He was always able to share his vision through the universal language of dance.

Upcoming performances:

Newark, NJ May 8 - 10, 2009
New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) - (888) 466-5722

Brooklyn , NY June 9 - 14, 2009
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House - (718) 636 - 4100

Your Ticket to Dance

Bring your ticket stub from any performance by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater or Ailey II and receive one free class at The Ailey Extension!**

  • For newcomers (first time students)
  • For returning students with the purchase of a 10-class card

    The Ailey Extension Newcomer Offer
    First time-visitors to The Ailey Extension get 2 classes for $25*!

    Winter in the City
    January 7 - February 28, 2009

    The Ailey Extension is a particpant in NYC & Co.'s 2009 Deal-O-Matic Promotion. Bring a friend! When you buy one class, your friend's class is free.***

    Click here to download the coupon

    * Offer valid for fist time visitors to The Ailey Extension only. Offer is available online or in person at The Ailey Extension check-in desk. Offer may not be combined with any other offer or discount.

    ** Offer valid for one year from the date of the performance. Offer valid for first time visitors only. Returning students receive one free class on their purchase of a 10-class card. Offer may not be combined with any other offer or discount.

    *** You must register in-person at The Ailey Extension to receive the free class. Both parties must be present to receive the free class. Offer must be redeemed at time of purchase. Cash only. Offer can not be combined wtih any other offer or discount.

    For more on the Ailey celebration, visit AlvinAiley.org.