Who would have thought that a Black man born in Rogers, Texas, in 1931, not only had the vision to create a world-renowned modern dance company, but also gave life to that vision?
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was founded in New York City in 1958 with six dancers. Known today as America’s Cultural Ambassador to the World, the company is preparing to conclude its 18-month celebration of 50 years of bringing dance to the world with a national tour, beginning next February at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and ending in May at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J.
“I believe that dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people,” Alvin Ailey, the man from Rogers, once declared.
In 50 years, AAADT has performed for more than 21 million people in 71 countries and on six continents. The theater comes under the umbrella of The Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation Inc., which also includes Ailey II, founded in 1974 as a junior performing company and led by Sylvia Waters; The Ailey School, founded in 1969; Ailey Arts in Education and Community Programs, which offers year-round community outreach activities across the U.S.; and The Ailey Extension, which offers dance and fitness classes to the general public.
“We have worked tirelessly to preserve the legacy of our founder, Alvin Ailey,” explains Sharon Gersten Luckman, AADF’s executive director. “The completion of the building of our new home and the preservation of the Ailey Archives ensure that Ailey’s history and artistic accomplishments will be permanently accessible to future generations.”
AAADT’s golden anniversary is as much cause for celebrating the theater’s magnificent dance history as it is for recalling that its founder paved the way for dancers of color to have a home where they could be trained, where they could learn the performance acumen to be the best in the world in dance and in life as a whole. Through dancers Hope Boykin, Clifton Brown, Renee Robinson, Matthew Rushing and Linda Celeste Sims, AAADT’s current stars, Ailey’s vision remains alive on stages around the world. Indeed, even after 50 years, the Ailey spirit appears to be growing stronger both for those on stage and those in its worldwide audiences.
“With the spirit and passion of Alvin Ailey in our hearts and a solid foundation for the future in our hand, we are excited to honor Mr. Ailey’s dream and the organization’s core mission that inspires and unites people of all backgrounds through the universal language of dance,” says Judith Jamison, legendary Ailey dancer and the theater’s current artistic director.
Tyrha M. Lindsey studied at The Ailey School at the age of 13.