Alvin Ailey

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Every company has what is known as a “signature piece,” that is, a work which expresses something about the artistic direction and the spirit of the company. For the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater that piece is Revelations. Choreographed and set to traditional music, Revelations was first performed at the Ninety-second Street YM-YWHA New York, NY., January 31, 1960. The lead dancers were Joan Derby, Minnie Marhsall, Merle Derby, Dorene Richardson, Jay Fletcher, Nathaniel Horne, and Herman Howell and the soloists were Nancy Redi and Gene Hobgood. The music was performed by the Music Masters Guild Chorus of the Harlem Branch YMCA under the direction of Frank Thomas. The piece as originally performed consisted of danced portions and music interleudes grouped under three broad headings, “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” “That Love My Jesus Gives Me,” and “Move, Members, Move.” The work was revised extensively a month after its first performance and was again given at the Ninety-second Street YM-YWHA. Revelations has been seen in every country that the company has toured and has been universally acclaimed.
Born in Rogers, Texas on January 5, 1931, Alvin Ailey spent his formative years going to Sunday School and participating in The Baptist Young People's Union. At age twelve, he moved to Los Angeles and, on a junior high school class trip to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, fell in love with concert dance. Ailey began his formal dance training inspired by the performances of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and the classes with Lester Horton that his friend, Carmen de Lavallade, urged him to take. Horton, the founder of the first racially integrated dance company in the US, was a catalyst for Ailey as the young dancer embarked on his professional career. After Horton's death in 1953, Ailey became the director of the Lester Horton Dance Theater and began to choreograph his own works. In New York, Ailey studied with many outstanding dance artists, including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Hanya Holm and Karel Shook, and took acting classes with Stella Adler. A versatile performer, Ailey won a number of acting roles while continuing to choreograph and dance professionally. In 1958, Ailey founded his own company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. During the Company's first decade, Ailey created approximately twenty new ballets, among them Hermit Songs and Reflections in D. These were followed by The River, The Lark Ascending, Love Songs and many others.

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