ALVIN AILEY ANNIVERSARY

December 05, 2018 at 5:00 am

We celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, a jewel in Manhattan’s artistic crown.

For more information, click here.

Aired on December 4, 2018.

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>>> WHEN A 27-YEAR-OLD ALVIN
AILEY AND A SMALL GROUP OF
AFRICAN-AMERICAN DANCERS TOOK
THE STAGE AT THE 92nd STREET Y
ON MARCH 30th, 1958, IT WAS FOR
A ONE NIGHT ONLY ENGAGEMENT, BUT
AS IT TURNED OUT, ON THAT NIGHT
A WHOLE NEW ERA IN THE ARTS HAD
JUST BEGUN.
AILEY OF COURSE WOULD GO ON TO
BECOME ONE OF THE GREATS IN
MODERN DANCE HISTORY AND HIS
COMPANY WOULD GROW AND EVOLVE
BEYOND THE STAGE TO ENCOMPASS
EDUCATION, COMMUNITY OUTREACH
AND EVEN CULTURAL DIPLOMACY.
JOINING US NOW TO TALK ABOUT THE
ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE
THEATER'S SIX DECADES OF
UNPRECEDENTED ACCOMPLISHMENTS
AND HOW THAT VENERABLE
INSTITUTION INTENDS TO CELEBRATE
IT'S 60th ANNIVERSARY SEASON IS
ROBERT BATTLE, THE ARTISTIC
DIRECTOR OF ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN
DANCE THEATER.
MR. BATTLE, THANKS FOR JOINING
US TODAY.
>> THANK YOU.
>> HOW ABOUT ALVIN AILEY DO IT?
WHAT WERE HIS GIFT.
>> WHAT WAS THE ALCHEMY THAT
MADE THIS DANCE THEATER COMPANY
SO SUCCESSFUL?
>> WELL, I THINK IT'S BECAUSE HE
HAD SOMETHING TO SAY, THAT IT
WASN'T JUST ABOUT DANCING, BUT
HE WAS DANCING HIS OWN TRUTH.
HE SAW THE NEED TO SEE THE
STORIES TOLD ABOUT HIS PEOPLE
THAT WEREN'T BEING TOLD ON THE
CONCERT DANCE STAGE.
SO THAT GAVE HIM A CERTAIN
DRIVE, A CERTAIN FOCUS, I THINK,
THAT WAS VERY MUCH A MOVEMENT.
THE COMPANY WAS FOUNDED ON THE
BRINK OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS
MOVEMENT, 1958.
SO I THINK THERE WAS SOMETHING
IN THE AIR ABOUT IT THAT WAS
KIND OF A PART OF THAT MOVEMENT,
AND THEN THE HUMANITY IN HIS
WORK, YOU KNOW, WE'RE DOING A
PROGRAM TO CELEBRATE HIM CALLED
TIMELESS AILEY AT CITY CENTER.
>> WE WILL TALK ABOUT THAT.
>> YEAH, BUT YOU SEE IN HIS WORK
THAT IT IS TIMELESS BECAUSE IT
SPEAKS TO THE HUMAN CONDITION.
SO WHEN PEOPLE COME THEY DON'T
JUST SEE AN AILEY PERFORMANCE,
BUT THEY FEEL IT AND THEY TAKE
IT WITH THEM WHEN THEY LEAVE.
>> THAT IS SO TRUE.
SO WHAT WERE THE UNIQUE
OBSTACLES THAT ALVIN AILEY HAD
TO A FACE?
>> WELL, AS A BLACK MAN IN THIS
COUNTRY AND CERTAINLY AT THAT
TIME THERE WEREN'T ALL OF THE
OPPORTUNITIESIM SERIOUSLY IN THE
CONCERT DANCE WORLD EVEN.
SO HE DID FACE OBSTACLES EITHER
IN DANCE OR NOT IN DANCE, JUST
BEING A PERSON OF COLOR IN THIS
COUNTRY.
SO IN THAT WAY HE DID FACE A LOT
OF OBSTACLES, BUT I THINK
BECAUSE HE WAS SO DRIVEN AND THE
MESSAGE WAS SO UNIVERSAL, I EVEN
THINK THAT'S WHY THE TITLE OF
THE COMPANY IS THE ALVIN AILEY
AMERICAN DANCE THEATER.
HE WAS CLAIMING THAT HE, TOO,
WAS AMERICAN, AND SO EVEN PEOPLE
WHO MAY NOT SEE HIM AS EQUALS,
THEY HAD TO SAY, BUT THIS IS
AMERICAN, AND SO THEIR PRIDE
SORT OF GETS IN THERE.
SO HE WAS VERY CLEVER AND VERY
BRILLIANT IN HOW HE CONCEIVEDCO
>> DID JUDITH JAMISON HIS
SUCCESSOR AND YOU HER SUCCESSOR,
HAVE YOU HAD TO FACE UNIQUE
OBSTACLES AS WELL.
>> BECAUSE I'M STANDING ON
SHOULDERS OF PEOPLE LIKE ALVIN
AILEY, CATHERINE DUNHAM, THE
LIST GOES ON AND ON WHO HAVE
MADE IT POSSIBLE SO THAT I CAN
TELL MY STORY WITHOUT SOME OF
THE THINGS THAT THEY HAD TO DEAL
WITH, SO I WOULDN'T SPEAK FOR
JUDITH JAMISON OF COURSE BEING A
WOMAN, BEING BLACK, BEING A
BOSS, YOU KNOW, I'M SURE THAT
SHE FACED OBSTACLES IN THAT WAY,
BUT ALVIN AILEY CHOSE HER
BECAUSE HE KNEW THAT SHE WOULD
NOT ONLY FACE IT, BUT SHE WOULD
TAKE THE COMPANY TO HEIGHTS
UNKNOWN.
>> AND SHE DID.
>> SHE DID.
>> I KNOW THIS IS A DIFFICULT
QUESTION, BUT IF YOU HAD TO LIST
THE MOST IMPORTANT
ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN THE SIX
DECADES OF THIS VENERABLE
COMPANY, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
>> WOW.
>> I KNOW.
>> I MEAN, YOU KNOW, IT COULD GO
ON AND ON.
>> YEAH.
>> BUT CERTAINLY TO JUST THE
FACT THAT YOU COULD SUSTAIN A
DANCE COMPANY AND A MODERN DANCE
COMPANY AT THAT FOR AS LONG AS
WE HAVE, RIGHT, SIX DECADES THAT
ALONE FOR ANY ARTISTIC
INSTITUTION IS A FEAT BECAUSE WE
KNOW THAT OFTEN THAT IS NOT
SUPPORTED NECESSARILY BY
GOVERNMENT OR THAT KIND OF
FUNDING.
SO THAT ALONE, STAYING HEALTHY
AS AN ORGANIZATION.
I THINK EMPLOYING NOT ONLY
DANCERS, BUT CREW MEMBERS.
WE HAVE A HUGE STAFF.
WE HAVE OTHER CHOREOGRAPHERS
THAT WORK WITH THE COMPANY,
LIGHTING DESIGNERS, IT GOES ON
AND ON.
SO KEEPING THOSE PEOPLE EMPLOYED
I THINK IS A HUGE FEAT.
WE'VE BEEN SEEN FOR, GOSH, I
DON'T KNOW HOW MANY MILLIONS OF
PEOPLE ALL OVER THE GLOBE.
I MEAN, IT'S INCREDIBLE.
AND THEN I HAVE TO MENTION OUR
BUILDING.
ONE OF THE LARGEST BUILDINGS
DEDICATED TO DANCE, THE JOAN
WHILE CENTER FOR DANCE.
WE KNOW IN NEW YORK CITY REAL
ESTATE IS SERIOUS AND WE HAVE
ONE OF THE LARGEST BUILDINGS
DEDICATED TO DANCE ON 55th AND
9th AVENUE.
>> IT'S A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING.
>> INCREDIBLE.
>> SO YOU TOOK OVER AS ARTISTIC
DIRECTOR FROM MS. JAMISON, ONLY
THE THIRD PERSON WHO HAVE THAT
JOB.
HOW IS IT HAVING THAT AWESOME
RESPONSIBILITY AND WHAT NEW
DIRECTIONS ARE YOU TAKING THE
COMPANY IN?
>> IT IS AN AWESOME
RESPONSIBILITY.
I THANK JUDITH JAMISON EVERY DAY
BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT THIS COMPANY
MEANS TO HER AND WHAT ALVIN
AILEY HIMSELF MEANT TO HER AND
THE FACT THAT SHE CHOSE ME I
THINK SAID SOMETHING TO ME THAT
I MAY NOT KNOW THAT I COULD HAVE
EVER IMAGINED BEING IN THIS
POSITION.
I THINK I'VE CONTINUED TO
STRETCH THE COMPANY, CONTINUED
TO EXPRESS THE VERSATILITY OF
THE DANCERS, THAT IS REFLECTED
IN THE REPERTOIRE THAT I CHOOSE,
THAT THEY CAN DO ALMOST
ANYTHING.
AND THAT'S VERY IMPORTANT, THAT
MESSAGE OF UNIVERSALITY, BUT
VERSATILITY I THINK IS SOMETHING
THAT IS ONE OF THE CORNER STONES
OF THIS DANCE COMPANY.
>> LET'S TALK ABOUT THE AILEY
ASCENDING 60th ANNIVERSARY
CELEBRATION.
>> YES.
>> IT'S PART OF THE 60th
ANNIVERSARY SEASON.
>> YES.
>> WHAT'S IN IT?
WHAT EVENTS ARE GOING TO
ENCOMPASS THIS CELEBRATION?
>> YEAH, WELL, ONE OF THE THINGS
WE WERE LOOKING AT AND THE
REASON WE CALL IT AILEY
ASCENDING IS THAT WE WERE
HEARING FROM A LOT OF PEOPLE
EITHER IN THE ORGANIZATION OR
FROM THE OUTSIDE SAYING THAT WE
WANT TO HEAR MR. AILEY'S VOICE.
SO THAT WAS IMPORTANT.
THAT'S WHY WE CALL IT AILEY
ASCENDING BECAUSE ALTHOUGH HE
DIED IN 1989, HE CONTINUES TO
INSPIRE US, CONTINUES TO PUSH
THE COMPANY FORWARD BY HIS VERY
SPIRIT.
SO ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE ARE
DOING IS RECNNY HARRIS
CHOREOGRAPHED A WORK CALLED
LAZARUS, IT'S A WONDERFUL WORK
BECAUSE IT'S INSPIRED BY THE
LIFE OF ALVIN AILEY.
>> IT'S A BALLET.
>> THIS IS THE TIME THIS COMPANY
IS DOING A TWO-ACT BALLET.
USUALLY YOU GET YOUR 20 MINUTES
OR 30 MINUTES AND BOOM, BOOM,
BOOM.
BUT THIS TIME YOU WILL SEE THE
FIRST PART LIKE A STORY,
INTERMISSION AND THEN YOU WILL
SEE THE CONCLUSION OF THE STORY.
SO HE WAS LOOKING AT THE THINGS
THAT ALVIN AILEY MIGHT HAVE
FACED, ADVERSITY, ALL OF THOSE
THINGS AND THEN BEING INSPIRED
BY HOW HE HAD THE GRACE AND THE
COURAGE TO TELL HIS STORY.
>> AND YOU MENTIONED TIMELESS
AILEY.
>> YES.
>> TALK ABOUT THAT.
>> ALVIN AILEY'S WORKS ARE
CLASSIC.
ONE OF THE WORKS -- IT'S A LOT
OF DIFFERENT EXCERPTS AND WORKS
BY ALVIN AILEY FOR THIS
PARTICULAR PROGRAM.
ONE OF THE WORKS IS CALLED NIGHT
CREATURE, WHICH HE COLLABORATED
WITH DUKE ELG TON TO MAKE THIS
WORK NIGHT CREATURE AND ONE OF
THE MOST IMPORTANT WORKS, CRY,
THAT IS A SOLO THAT HE
CHOREOGRAPHED WITH JUDY JAMISON
IN 1971 AS A GIFT TO HIS MOTHER
BECAUSE HE COULDN'T AFFORD TO
GIVE HER ONE.
IT EXPRESSES THE EXPERIENCES OF
BLACK WOMEN IN THIS COUNTRY
BEING BROUGHT OVER IN CHAINS AND
THEN SERVITUDE AND THEN AT THE
END TRIUMPH.
>> IT'S REALLY WONDERFUL.
>> WE ONLY HAVE 30 SECONDS LEFT,
BUT YOU ARE TAKING THIS
CELEBRATION -- THIS CELEBRATION
IS GOING TO GO ACROSS THE
COUNTRY, RIGHT?
>> ABSOLUTELY.
WE WILL CONTINUE TO HAVE
REVELATIONS, HIS MOST IMPORTANT
WORK AND THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK
EVER SEEN.
WE WILL CONTINUE THAT ALL OVER
THE GLOBE.
>> IT'S GOING TO BE A BUSY 2019
SEASON.
I HOPE YOU GET SOME REST.
>> YES.
I WILL TRY.
>> ROBERT, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR
JOINING US, IT'S BEEN A PLEASURE
TALKING TO YOU.
>> THANK YOU.
>> TO LEARN MORE ABOUT AILEY
ASCENDING 60th ANNIVERSARY
CELEBRATION VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT
METROFOCUS.ORG.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, and Judy and Josh Weston.

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