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ArtSummer of Blacker Love

something to celebrate: 50 years of alvin ailey

June 17, 2019
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A revelation is a surprising and previously unknown fact, especially one that is made known in a dramatic way or the making known of something that was previously secret or unknown. Entering the world of Alvin Ailey is exactly this, so it is no wonder that his signature choreographic dance is called “Revelations.” At just 29 years old, Ailey produced this dance, and at 24 I got to experience it live for the first time at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Spirit Gala. 

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Alvin Ailey dancers perform at the 2011 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's opening night gala at New York City Center on November 30, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by)

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First, a quick time travel. In 1958, choreographer and dancer Alvin Ailey founded a school that 50 years later still stands as a pinnacle for preserving and cultivating Black dance culture. The school was founded to showcase the best Black talent in dance. Its radical pro-Black history makes its 50th anniversary an emotional one. This anniversary is shared with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, reminding us how critical the Ailey School has been to all facets of the Black community, specifically our LGBTQIA+ family. The Ailey School has always fought to celebrate Black people with no apologies. The Spirit Gala is, of course, a night to showcase the talented dancers of the school and company but as importantly, one  to raise funds for scholarships so that deserving students continue to have the opportunity to attend the Ailey School.

30th July 1986: American dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) instructs students during a class for the blind and visually impaired, New York City. Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. (Photo by )

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In homage to its roots, the spirit gala ended with a performance of Revelations. In addition to being the most widely seen modern dance work in the world, Revelations illustrates the history, traditions, faith, and beliefs of African American culture by exploring the places of deepest grief along with holiest joys in the soul through dances set to spirituals, gospels, and blues music. To experience the performance is to sit through the most arresting healing session you’ve ever been to. Who knew therapy could be so beautiful? Ailey did.

The magic of my very first “Revelation” was cemented by the crowd at the after party. The energy in the room was enough to remind me that the Ailey School is not just historically relevant to Black culture worldwide but instead that it remains an institution to propel Black creatives to our dreams. It was not a night just to remember the past 50 years but to think about the next 50, for the work is far from over. The evening was magical with a non-judgmental dance floor full of professionals and spectators alike. Amongst the sea of Alvin Ailey students, teachers, and chair members, were guests like author Zadie Smith, Orange Is The New Black actress Lorraine Toussaint, artist Kehinde Wiley, all there to proudly celebrate Black dance and dance to the sounds of DJ MOS.