American Masters Opens 36th Season with an Exploration of the Life and Impact of Visionary Choreographer and Dancer Alvin Ailey in New Documentary January 11 on PBS
Features previously unheard audio of Ailey and new interviews with Judith Jamison, Bill T. Jones, Carmen de Lavallade, Rennie Harris and others
American Masters: Ailey is a portrait of the legendary choreographer Alvin Ailey (1931-1989), a trailblazing pioneer who founded his influential studio Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958 at age 27. The documentary traces the full contours of this brilliant and enigmatic man whose search for the truth in movement resulted in enduring choreography that centers on the Black American experience with inimitable grace and power. Told through the choreographer’s own words and featuring evocative archival footage and interviews with those close to him, director Jamila Wignot weaves together a resonant biography that connects Ailey’s past to our present with an intimate glimpse into the Ailey studios today, following innovative hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris as he conceives a new dance, “Lazarus,” inspired by Ailey’s life. Opening the series’ 36th season, American Masters: Ailey premieres nationwide Tuesday, January 11, 2022, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/ailey and the PBS Video app as part of #PBSForTheArts.
Using previously unheard audio interviews recorded in the last year of Ailey’s life, the documentary presents the dancer’s remarkable journey in his own words, from his childhood in Jim Crow Texas to the inspiration for his 1960 masterpiece “Revelations.” Raised by a single mother, Ailey recounts the hardships of his childhood along with memories of blues and gospel music, juke joints, church, young love and the awakening of his gay identity. Throughout his life he endured racism, homophobia, addiction, mental illness and the burden of being an iconic African American artist, but he found salvation through dance. In 1989, he tragically succumbed to an AIDS-related illness.
More than 30 years later, Ailey’s dream lives on. Where other modern dance companies were built to showcase their founders, Ailey envisioned his own as bigger than himself. By interweaving Ailey’s rich journey with Harris’ present-day rehearsal process for “Lazarus,” American Masters: Ailey shows the enduring power of Ailey’s vision. In Harris’ creative process, Ailey comes alive for a whole new generation: his faith in the transformative power of dance, his grand embrace and his expression of complete freedom. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s homecoming season, launching at New York City Center December 1-19, features performances of “Lazarus” on Thursday, December 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET and Thursday, December 16 at 7:30 p.m. ET. The season is followed by a 2022 United States tour.
Director Jamila Wignot said, “Ailey’s dances—celebrations of African American beauty and history—did more than move bodies; they opened minds. His dances were revolutionary social statements that staked a claim as powerful in his own time as in ours: Black life is central to the American story and deserves a central place in American art and on the world stage.”
#PBSForTheArts is a multiplatform campaign that celebrates the arts in America. For more than 50 years, PBS has been the media destination for the arts, presenting dance, theater, opera, visual arts and concerts to Americans in every corner of the country.
Now in its 36th season on PBS, American Masters was recently nominated for an IDA Award, two Primetime Emmy® Awards and was awarded two News & Documentary Emmys. The series illuminates the lives and creative journeys of our nation’s most enduring artistic giants—those who have left an indelible impression on our cultural landscape—through compelling, unvarnished stories. Setting the standard for documentary film profiles, the series has earned widespread critical acclaim and 28 Emmy Awards—including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special—14 Peabodys, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, an Oscar, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of more than 250 masters past and present, the American Masters website offers full episodes, film outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources, digital original series and more. The series is a production of The WNET Group.
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American Masters: Ailey is a production of Goodhue Pictures for Insignia Films in association with American Masters Pictures, XTR, Impact Partners, ITVS, and Black Public Media. Directed and Produced by Jamila Wignot. Produced by Lauren DeFilippo. Executive Producers include Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak, Judy Kinberg and Emily Blavatnik. Michael Kantor is executive producer of American Masters.
Investment support for American Masters: Ailey provided by Chicago Media Project, Natasha & David Dolby, Embrey Family Foundation, Nina & David Fialkow, The Fink Family Foundation, Caldwell Fisher Family Foundation, Scott & Molly Forstall, Marni J. Grossman, William F. Harnisch Foundation, The Lewis Foundation, Inc., Ann W. Lovell, Nion McEvoy & Leslie Berriman, Meryl Metni, Jennifer Pelling, Bill & Eva Price, Scintilla Foundation, The Susan S. Shiva Foundation, Jennifer & Jonathan Allan Soros, Steiner King Foundation, Jim & Susan Swartz, Esmeralda & Scott Swartz, Jack Wadsworth, and Christine Woodhouse & Seth Woodhouse.
Original episode production funding provided by Ford Foundation I JustFilms, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation, Howard Gilman Foundation, The Westridge Foundation, Susan Lacy, and Harold and Isabel Feld Foundation, and Estate of Roland Karlen.
Original series production funding for American Masters provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Rosalind P. Walter, Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen & James S. Marcus, Judith & Burton Resnick, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl & Philip Milstein family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Seton J. Melvin and public television viewers.
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