*His is a choreography of the heart, drawing a whole new public to modern dance. Today, director Jamila Wignot’s “Ailey” premiered at Sundance Film Festival. The biography opens with the 1988 Kennedy Center Honors and a majestic Cicely Tyson on staging praising Ailey.
“Alvin Ailey has a passion for movement that reveals the meaning of things,” expressed the legend. “His is a choreography of the heart, drawing a whole new public to modern dance. Alvin Ailey is Black and he’s universal,” she continued.” The very spirit that has made him a pied piper of modern dance and that is his genius.”
Wignot’s approach shares the Texas native’s love of poetry. Where Ailey conveyed poetry through movement, Wignot crafts visual poetry to evoke Ailey’s memories. Archival footage, layered with audio recordings expounds on the dancer’s upbringing and establishes the language of his inspiration.
During an interview on January 17, 1988, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) founder was asked if he felt he had to sacrifice anything in order to stay in dance.
“Everything! Dance it’s an enormous sacrifice,” exclaimed Ailey, who was the 57 at the time. “It’s a physical sacrifice, dancing hurts. You don’t make that much money. I mean, touring six months out of the year is disastrous on any kind of personal relation. It’s a tough thing – you have to be possessed to dance.”
Interviews with celebrated company dancers and distinguished choreographers give insight into Ailey’s process and legacy, while the current company of dancers work to bring a tribute to life.
Puremovement choreographer Rennie Harris, is creating a piece for the company’s 60th anniversary.
“Mr. Ailey talked about blood memories – what his parents went through, what his folks went through,” explained Harris. “And that was a major key for me. Memory – that was the anchor.”
Friends said choreography was his catharsis.
“I came to New York City in 1954. I was a live and springy 24 [year-old], who loved to dance,” shared the dance icon. “I studied with Charles Weidman, Hanya Holm. I was the usual rebel and I had my own ideas. I had these creative fires bubbling inside. Dark, deep things. Beautiful things inside of me I had been trying to get out.”
Mary Barnett was the Ailey Associate Artistic Director from 1980-1988.
“Identity was a strong message,” expressed Barnett. “Being able to say through the choreography, ‘I am,’ was a very important theme that ran through the dances. Stand in your own bring no matter what.”
“Ailey” delicately and scarcely addresses the icons personal life, partners and passing. By the end of the documentary, it felt like there was more to be said about the luminary.
Favorite Performance Moments:
– Alvin Ailey, Carmen de Lavallade
– Revelations set to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”
Blue Suite 1958
Masekela Langage 1969
The River 1970
Mary Lou’s Mass 1971
Love Songs 1972
Night Creature 1974
Fever Swamp 1983
More About The Film: Many know the name Alvin Ailey, but how many know the man? Ailey’s commitment to searching for truth in movement resulted in pioneering and enduring choreography that centers on African American experiences. Director Jamila Wignot’s resonant biography grants artful access to the elusive visionary who founded one of the world’s most renowned dance companies, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Wignot’s portrait is complex, capturing the talent and confidence of a man in the spotlight while also carving out space for Ailey’s vulnerability. Wignot moves between the interior and exterior, the inhale and exhale, to capture Ailey’s reverberating impact.
Meet the Artist: Jamila Wignot’s directing work includes the series “The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” which won the Peabody Award, the Emmy Award, and the NAACP Image Award; “Town Hall,” a documentary portrait of Tea Party activists; Peabody Award-winning “Triangle Fire;” and Emmy-nominated “Walt Whitman.” Wignot’s producing credits include W. Kamau Bell’s “Bring The Pain;” “Musa Syeed’s A Stray;” and WNET’s “The Supreme Court: the Rehnquist Revolution,” an IDA Best Limited Series winner.