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5 Trailblazing productions by The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

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5 Trailblazing productions by The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
As the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater celebrates its 65th year of changing perceptions of American dance, here are 5 of its best productions
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater celebrates its 65th anniversary this year. Founded by American dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey (1931–1989) to create performance opportunities for young Black modern dancers and change the perception of American dance, the company has gone on to perform in over 70 countries across six continents, presenting iconic works by Ailey alongside nearly 100 contemporary choreographers.    
Here are five trailblazing productions by the dance company that you should watch.

Revelations

Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Revelations is Alvin Ailey’s signature masterpiece and is a tribute to his heritage and genius. Ailey choreographed the piece when he was just 29 years old and it has gone on to become a dance classic considered to be a must-see for all. The work is an intimate reflection that explores the emotional spectrum of the human condition, from the deepest of grief to the holiest joy. Using African-American religious spirituals, this suite is a classic tribute to the resolve and determination of a people.
"Revelations is Alvin Ailey’s signature masterpiece and is a tribute to his heritage and genius"
Of its creation, Ailey once recalled, “I did it chronologically, leading off with the opening part of Revelations, which was…about trying to get up out of the ground. The costumes and the set would be coloured brown, an earth color, for coming out of the earth, for going into the earth. The second part was something that was very close to me—the baptismal, the purification rite. Its colors would be white and pale blue. Then there would be the section surrounding the gospel church, the holy rollers and all the church happiness. Its colors would be earth tones, yellow and black.”
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater premiered the work in 1960 and perform Revelations as part of almost every programme they present, making it the most seen piece of modern dance worldwide.  
Watch a trailer of the piece here.

Memoria  

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Memoria from Timeless Ailey 60th Anniversary Program. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Memoria from Timeless Ailey 60th Anniversary Program. Photo by Paul Kolnik
In the tumultuous year of 1979 when Alvin Ailey’s great, perennial friend from his Lester Horton days, choreographer Joyce Trisler, died prematurely, he began choreographing Memoria. Later, he wrote, “Memoria is about Joyce’s life, my memories of her, my image of her. Although these are very abstract images, nobody has ever asked me what Memoria is about. People everywhere understand it. Making the dance was a very deep and wrenching experience for me.”
The piece is set to the sublime music of jazz pianist Keith Jarrett and is split into two parts—In Memory and In Celebration.  

The River

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's The River. Photo by Paul Kolnik
 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's The River. Photo by Paul Kolnik
This work was originally choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1970 for American Ballet Theatre and first performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1981. The dance is scored to music by musical genius and jazz legend Duke Ellington and was Ellington’s first symphonic score written for dance.
"The piece combines classical ballet, modern dance and jazz in sections"
Ailey and Ellington worked closely to create the piece which combines classical ballet, modern dance and jazz in sections, suggesting tumbling rapids and slow currents on a voyage to the great sea, mirroring the journey of human existence.   
The River has been restaged by Associate Artistic Director Masazumi Chaya for several companies in addition to this latest production for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which also features costumes newly designed for the first time since the 1970s.

Cry

AAADT's Constance Stamatiou in Alvin Ailey's Cry from Timeless Ailey 60th Anniversary program. Photo by Paul Kolnik
AAADT's Constance Stamatiou in Alvin Ailey's Cry from Timeless Ailey 60th Anniversary program. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Alvin Ailey choreographed his signature solo work Cry as a birthday present for his mother, inspired by his stunning muse, the legendary Judith Jamison. Jamison was named Ailey’s successor as artistic director of the dance company shortly before his untimely death in 1989, a position she held for over 20 years.
The piece is a physically and emotionally demanding tour-de-force 16-minute solo and Ailey dedicated it to “all Black women everywhere—especially our mothers”. It is made up of three parts. The first is set to Alice Coltrane’s “Something about John Coltrane,” the second to Laura Nyro’s “Been on a Train,” and the last has the Voices of East Harlem singing, “Right On, Be Free.”  
"The piece is a physically and emotionally demanding tour-de-force"
When Cry premiered at New York City Center in 1971, it was an immediate sensation. It propelled Judith Jamison to international stardom in the dance world. In its review of the premiere, The New York Times proclaimed, “…for years it has been obvious that Judith Jamison is no ordinary dancer. Now Alvin Ailey has given his African queen a solo that wonderfully demonstrates what she is and where she is…Rarely have a choreographer and a dancer been in such accord.”
Since Jamison’s portrayal of this archetypal figure first popularized the piece, it has become a distinct honor for Ailey dancers to follow in her footsteps by performing Cry in its entirety onstage. 

Dancing Spirit

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ronald K. Brown's Dancing Spirit. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ronald K. Brown's Dancing Spirit. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Choreographed by Ronald K Brown, this work pays tribute to Judith Jamison’s profound influence. The moving work echoes the title of Jamison’s autobiography and is set to music by Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis and War. Brown’s choreography conjures dancing spirits to embody Jamison’s elegance, dignity and generosity, using movement from Cuba, Brazil and the US. The work was first premiered in 2009. 
Watch live performances of some of the above works by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Edinburgh International Festival from 23–25 August and Sadler’s Wells from 5–16 September or by Ailey II on their UK tour throughout the autumn
Cover Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's James Gilmer in Alvin Ailey's The River. Photo by Paul Kolnik
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