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Alvin Ailey Back For Six Performances At Auditorium Theatre

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Photo by Paul Kolnik

Celebrating its 65th anniversary season, the Alvin AileyAmerican Dance Theater returns to the Auditorium Theater on April 17th for alimited run of six performances. The shows will celebrate the legacy of founderAlvin Ailey and artistic director emerita Judith Jamison as well as new worksby contemporary choreographers. 


For devotees of African-American performing arts, the AlvinAiley Dance Theater is an iconic cultural institution. Ailey founded thecompany during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement to share therichness of African-American culture through dance.


As a young man, Ailey was drawn to the performing arts whenhe and his mother migrated to Los Angeles from Texas. Despite his growinginterest in dance, there would be few Black performers for Ailey to identifywith until he had the opportunity to see the legendary Katherine Dunham’scompany when he was in high school. Dunham’s anthropological approach to thedance traditions of the African diaspora would change the way Ailey thoughtabout culture and identity, inspiring  him to focus on the dance customs ofAfrican-Americans, particularly in the South. 


As he developed the signature style for his budding dancecompany, Ailey pulled from the traditions of gospel, blues, and jazz tochronicle the tragedies and triumphs of everyday life for African-Americans.“Revelations” is a shining example, chronicling what Ailey referred to as the“blood memories” of African-Americans from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade tothe song sermons of the Black church. The ballet highlights the culturaltraditions that African-Americans have maintained and created including the parasolprocession that audiences instantly recognize. Since it was created in 1960,“Revelations” has remained an integral part of the company’s performance,representing the living history that resides in Ailey’s visionary choreography.


Along with Ailey, the shows this season will also celebratethe legacy of director emerita Judith Jamison. Jamison joined the company in1964 and made her premiere at Chicago’s Harper Theater Dance Festival. Jamisonwas also the first dancer to perform Ailey’s acclaimed sixteen minute solo“Cry” dedicated to his mother and all African-American women. When Ailey’shealth declined in the late 80s, he asked Jamison to succeed him as thecompany’s artistic director. She served in that role until 2011 providing thecreative vision and leadership for the company’s present-day contributions to the genre of modern dance. 


Among the dancers in the company, Chicago-born Vernard J.Gilmore looks forward to his homecoming performance this month. Gilmore grew upin Englewood and danced in local performance groups that his mother wouldorganize. He saw the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater as a student at Curie highschool  and was immediately struck by their performance of “Revelations”.“I found a kindred spirit in the work of Alvin Ailey,” Gilmore recalls, notingthe powerful themes of resistance and spiritual renewal that he saw in Ailey’swork. Gilmore began dancing with Alvin Ailey in 1996 and works with AileyCamp,the company’s community outreach initiative. On the importance of Alvin AileyDance Theater to our broader understanding of arts and culture, Gilmore sharesthat “a great society is one that understands that art and culture areessential tools for expressing the beauty of everything around us--and that’swhat Alvin Ailey Dance Theater does”. 


The repertoire for this year’s visit to Chicago willfeature Ailey classics such as “Revelations” and newer works includingchoreographer Kyle Abraham’s “Are You In Your Feelings”, a celebration ofAfrican-American culture accompanied by a “mixtape” styled score of soul,hip-hop and R&B. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be at theAuditorium Theatre (50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive) from April 17-21. 

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