How Alvin Ailey became one of the greatest choreographers in US history

Alvin Ailey/Photo credit:Picryl

Alvin Ailey, widely recognized as one of the greatest choreographers in history, founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater back in 1958. His dancing was largely influenced by his experiences in the rural South. Later, it will immortalize his works which reshaped dancing in the mid-1950s. His goal was to contribute to the American dance heritage and preserve the authenticity of the African-American experience. This was the reason why anytime Alvin stepped on the dance stage, he did so with his all.

He had the passion to dance, but it was the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company that walked him through the basics of the dancing world. His friend, Carmen de Lavallede, helped him enhance the skills he learned and also introduced him to Lester Horton’s classes.

It was at Horton classes, a racially integrated dance company, that Alvin saw the world of choreography from a better perspective. The founder of Horton, spotting Alvin’s remarkable skills and commitment, decided to mentor him on his journey to a professional career.

When Mr. Horton passed away in 1953, Alvin was appointed director of the Lester Horton Dance Theatre. This platform became the springboard for him to promote his own choreography. He exhibited his works in four Broadway shows, including House of Flowers and Jamaica in the 1950s and 60s.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was formed by Alvin Ailey in 1958. Ailey, who had studied dance in Los Angeles and New York City, had built a brand for himself before setting up the dance company.

When other African American dancers and artists understood his vision, they lent their support to make the Dance Theater a reality. It became a sphere for exhibiting modern dance moves that dwelled on diverse cultural experiences.

The company’s inaugural performance took place at the 92nd Street Y in New York City and featured a mix of Ailey’s own choreography, as well as works by other notable choreographers of the time. From there, the company began to tour both nationally and internationally, quickly gaining a reputation for its innovative and powerful performances. The company later became known as the Ailey School in 1969, whereas the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble he founded became Ailey II in 1974.

This trailblazing dance company introduced audiences from all over the world to modern dance, showcasing a diverse range of ethnicities that had been previously underrepresented in the predominantly white dance industry. Through his vision and leadership, Alvin helped to break down barriers and expand the art form of dance to embrace a wider range of cultures and experiences.

He believed in promoting education through arts, especially giving minority representations an opportunity to exhibit their talent. His work was recorded even years after he died. In 2014, he was posthumously given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award bestowed on a civilian. This was to appreciate his contributions and dedication to civil rights in America and breaking ground in dancing. In 1988, he was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor for his exemplary contribution to American culture.

Alvin was born on January 5, 1931, and passed away on December 1, 1989. The New York Times, in an op-ed, eulogized him, describing him as a man whose life touched humanity in various endeavors.

Today, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater remains one of the most celebrated dance companies in the world, continuing to push boundaries and inspire audiences with its groundbreaking works.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 6, 2023


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