ALVIN AILEY 60TH ANNIVERSARY

We’ll take you backstage at the 60th anniversary celebration of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Aired on December 6, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> WHEN A 27-YEAR-OLD ALVIN AILEY AND A SMALL GROUP OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN DANNERS 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, A WHOLE NEW ERA IN THE ARTS HAD JUST BEGUN.

AILEY OF COURSE WOULD GO ON TO BECOME ONE OF THE GRATES OF MODERN DANCE HISTORY AND HIS COMPANY WOULD GROW AND EVOLVE BEYOND THE STAGE TO ENCOMPASS COMMUNITY OUTREACH AND EVEN CULTURAL OUTREACH.

JOINING ME TO TALK ABOUT THE DANCE THEATER'S SIX DECADES OF UNPRECEDENTED ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND HOW THAT VENERABLE INSTITUTION INTENDS TO CELEBRATE IS ROBERT BATTLE, THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US TODAY.

THANK YOU.

HOW DID HE DO IT?

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 FACE?

WELL, AS A BLACK MAN IN THIS COUNTRY AND CERTAINLY AT THAT TIME THERE WEREN'T ALL OF THE OPPORTUNITIES AFFORDED TO HIM AND TO BE TAKEN 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 CONCEIVED THIS COMPANY.

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 CORNERSTONES OF THIS DANCE COMPANY.

ROBERT, THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

IT'S BEEN A PLEASURE TALKING TO YOU.

> THANK YOU.

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, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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