My life has truly been six degrees of Alvin Ailey, making him a permanent staple of my former life as a dancer from attending class with Harold Perrineau, to interviewing former Artisitc Director Judith Jamison for Black Entertainment Television, to watching Ailey dancers in my company of The Lion King glide gracefully and tingling with excitement to see an evening of dance with people that looked like me executing every form of dance one could possibly imagine. Revelations, Blues Suite and Cry were signature pieces that were mesmerizing to behold. There were all shades of my people gorgeously flying through the air like magic. They made me believe I could fly too. They were the Alvin Ailey Dancer Theater Company.
Many know the name Alvin Ailey, but how many know the man? Directed by Jamila Wignot, encompassing archival footage and audio recordings, reveal intimate details of Ailey’s upbringing establishing the language of his inspiration and artistic genius through dance Wignot and Choreographer Rennie Harris take his ‘blood memories’ infusing them through dancers making them physical historians.
When the film opens with the late Cicely Tyson paying homage as he received the Kennedy Center Honors, was a direct reminder how this ‘pied piper of dance’ shattered stereotypes within the dance community paving the way for dancers like Misty Copeland. He made it possible for our bodies not to be seen as a detriment in the world of dance, but a physical instrument of strength and change. But, genius comes at a price.
A student of Martha Graham, his mother was the center of his world as he searched truth to movement. Never knowing or seeing his father, Alvin often struggled with his sexuality and the fact that his genius set him apart from his peer and colleagues. Consistently suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’ coupled with the loneliness of being an artist alone, would eventually take its toll. Did people really love him or his gift and what he represented or his fame?
Friend, students and colleagues like George Faison, Hope Clarke and Carmen de Lavallade share their stories and love in a tribute that showcases his signature piece and how they came to fruition. Even though we lost him to the AIDS pandemic in 1990, his work will continue to live on for many centuries in footage, his dancers and those like me, who will be forever grateful he existed. Ailey, produced by Neon, is making its way theaters on July 23rd.