During the time Alvin Ailey started the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT) (1958), he lived in a heavily racist America. Ailey grew up in Texas with his single mother. At this time (1930’s) Texas and America as a whole were places where “white was right and segregation was at large. He moved from here at 12 to LA and then later New York at 18, where he began his Broadway career. Ailey had many influences within dance, such as influences from his training (Lester Horton, Martha Graham, Kathryn Dunham and Jack Cole); styles from each choreographer are shown within his work.
In America in the 1950’s, racism towards black/African American people had progressed for the better, however it was still evident in everyday life especially in the south. Some schools wouldn’t permit black children to study alongside white children and was a contributing factor alongside Ailey’s own “blood memories” to start a dance company primarily for black people to celebrate them and their cultures. When the company first started in 1958, Alvin Ailey had specific requirements for whom to cast; athletically built, very talented but most importantly black dancers.Order now
Ailey wanted to represent black people in a positive way, raising awareness of their mistreatment and celebrating the faith of the church and God who carried them to become who they are today. Ailey’s first piece for AAADT was “Blues Suite , (March 30th 1958) which was about his Texan Roots. This was a very important piece as this was not only the first piece, therefore representing the company but also was showing the influences both choreographically and narrative from Ailey’s life.
Moving onto the 1960’s, this was a massive revolution for black African American people within American as Rob Kennedy stopped segregation on public transport, later followed by the civil movements involving Martin Luther King, the ever legendary “I have a dream speech. This revolution continued into the later years of the 60’s as black people were allowed the chance to vote, interracial marriages were allowed, and fair housing/wages were given to black people. As America changed so did the AAADT.
It had more white dancers or non-African American dancers within the company, representing the cultural diversity happening within the outside political world. Arguably the most famous work Alvin Ailey has created was made in 1960 “Revelations. ” Similarly to “Blues Suite” this piece was based on Ailey’s blood memories from Texas, such as his baptism, but also represented black people as a whole. It shows the progression from slavery to freedom and celebration through three sections; “Pilgrim of Sorrow , “Take me to the water and “Move members move .
It was a very important statement piece as it fitted with the changes within racial equality that was happening at the time. Also in 1965 Judith Jamison joined AAADT, who would later be a very influential member of the company. The 1970’s showed yet more progression for black people. The “black is beautiful movement happened; this was when black people taking a stand once and for all saying that “black is right just as much as white . Within the AAADT many works were created a few were; “Cry” (1971). “A present to his mother for her birthday, it explored the strength and pain black women face.
It also featured Judith Jamison as principle dancer and “Memoria (1979). “A dedicated celebration of his dear friend and colleague, Joyce Trisler life. It became more evident that Ailey was beginning to break away from the typical blood memory narrative and was making more abstract pieces. Also during the 70’s Ailey founded the second company Ailey. ” Even though racism had progressed massively within the last 30 years, the 1980’s still showed evidence of it, however not close to that in the past. More black people were shown on TV and FILM and some people argue that it is because of the contribution of the Ailey Company had to the arts.
Works made by Ailey before his death in 1989 were “For Bird With Love (1984) “ A tribute to the life of jazz musician Charlie Bird Parker and “Witness 1986 a celebration of the strength, elegance and versatility of the Ailey woman. Also during the 80’s Judith Jamison created “Divining” (1984) which was showed as an AAADT piece. After Alvin Ailey’s death in 1989, his muse Judith Jamison was appointed Artistic Director of AAADT. She took the company on a more abstract route, just as Ailey was doing towards the end of his career. She created works such as; “Forgotten Time” (1989). A piece about 12 dancers on a journey through ancient rituals of love and tribal traditions.
“Hymn” (1993). “A co-choreographed piece by herself, Renny Harn and Robert Battle. It was a mix of contemporary, ballet and street dance, bringing the AAADT into the 21st century as it is representing the dance trends of the time. Before Jamison came to AAADT she trained in Philadelphia in ballet, tap, modern, jazz and acrobatics. These styles can be seen within her work today, representing her inspirations. Due to the fact she also trained with Ailey from being a young adult she also has elements of his influences within her work also.
Not only did Jamison study dance, but also acting and singing as she was on Broadway just like Ailey, this will justify the showmanship with her works, especially “Love Stories. ” In the 1990’s, and into the 2000’s, the AAADT gained a lot of publicity from the social media and media, helping the company to be as successful as it is today. When “Hymn was being created (1993) the AAADT Company performed for Bill Clinton to a TV audience of 80,000,000! This gained a lot of attention towards the company, helping it secure its financial income.
Something the company struggled with a little under Ailey made clear by having to buy cheap costumes and make them look extravagant themselves. Also in the same year, the company performed in central park in front of 30,000 people. In 2008, the company celebrated their 50th anniversary and two years later saw the company be handed over to Robert Battle. He was appointed artistic director, however Jamison kept her involvement in the company, just as she did as a young dancer and was the artistic director emerita, so she still had a say in the decisions.
Overall, the company has progressed massively in terms of choreography due to the influences of different artistic directors and their training, but also racially. As racism became less common, the more celebrated and accepted black people became, making it easier for them to be treated as equals. The AAADT Company has shown this through dance and helped towards the positive attitudes we see within not just the arts but society and politics today.