Director: Jamila Wignot
Released: 7 January
At the height of its popularity, in the mid 1970s, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre had been seen by 10 million people in 44 countries on six continents. For a black kid from Texas, who grew up was picking cotton in poverty, Ailey’s is the hero story – the convenient one often used to deflect from racism and societal injustice.
Jamila Wignot’s documentary celebrates the dancer, and explains his dance, using archival footage and interviews interspersed by the creation of a new dance piece by his eponymous company.
“Sometimes your name becomes bigger than yourself, you don’t know who that is. You see a name but you don’t see a man,” says Carmen de Lavallade, the choreographer who danced with Ailey and witnessed his ascent and descent.
A number of other dancers and associates shed light on the man who largely remained in the dark outside the stage spotlight.
Ailey is still best known for his signature masterpiece Revelations, which premiered in 1960 when he was a mere 29-years-old. Set to spirituals, gospel and blues, it presents a vision of the historical African American experience from a church-inspired perspective, ranging from baptismal joy to slavery.
Even though Ailey succumbed like so many others to the plight of AIDS in the late ‘80s, he has built an institution of enormous cultural pride and unparalleled popularity – a legacy cemented even further by this insightful documentary.
Words: Michael McDermott