The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theate opens its New York City Center Season December 3. The world renowned company thrives thanks to the work of Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison, Black Enterprise’s 2007 Legacy Award recipient. “That is my legacy,” she said in an interview for MAKERS. “That we are still here.”
Taking over as Artistic Director, following the 1989 death of the late Alvin Ailey, Jamison headed up a hefty endeavor to keep a black business alive in a world where multiple entities vie for pieces of a shrinking multicultural financial pie. But Jamison has been key in making sure the company stays alive continuing Ailey’s legacy of embodying the African American experience in fluid dance movements representing the flexibility of black people’s ability to bend and move with purpose when necessary. “Ailey’s work was groundbreaking in its exploration of the African American experience and the enrichment of the modern dance tradition, including his beloved American masterpiece “Revelations,” said President Obama, when posthumously awarding Alvin Ailey the Presidential Medal of Freedom last week. “The Ailey organization, based in New York City, carries on his pioneering legacy with performances, training, educational and community programs for people of all backgrounds.”
Jamison’s interest in two things: dance and the black experience, began as a child in Philadelphia. Lovers of art, her parents exposed their baby girl to cultures. And Jamison’s mother was able to make sure she studied with the best teachers starting at 6 years old. After attending Fisk University, a stint performing Off Broadway in NYC led Jamison to the fateful experience of witnessing Ailey’s groundbreaking work. Years later, as a member of his company, she became known as Ailey’s “muse.” Her lean, tall 5’10 height and graceful athletic tendencies made her best known for performing the 1971 solo “Cry.” Written by Ailey as a birthday gift to his mother, “Cry” epitomized in movement the struggles of being a black woman.
Leaving to perform and star on Broadway in Sophisticated Ladies, Jamison later founded her own dance company “The Jamison Project,” and choreographed numerous works like Divining , Just Call Me Dance, Into the Life, Hymn, Sweet Release, and Double Exposure. She returned to Alvin Ailey after accepting his offer to run the company. In 1989, simultaneously running two companies, Jamison’s savvy financial skill mixed with an upbeat personality led to a thriving Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Free from bankruptcy, it evolved to become one of the most successful dance companies in the world. This reverent legacy maintains since passing on the title of Artistic Director to Robert Battle in 2011.
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