When Alvin Ailey died on December 1, 1989, The New York Times said of him, “you didn’t need to have known [him] personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm, and exuberance and his courageous stand for multi-racial brotherhood.”
Ailey was born on January 5, 1931, in Rogers, Texas. His experiences of life in the rural South would later inspire some of his most memorable works.
Mr. Ailey was introduced to dance in Los Angeles by performances of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, and his formal dance training began with an introduction to Lester Horton’s classes by his friend Carmen de Lavallade.
Horton, the founder of one of the first racially integrated dance companies in the United States, became a mentor for Mr. Ailey as he embarked on his professional career. After Horton’s death in 1953, Mr. Ailey became director of the Lester Horton Dance Theater and began to choreograph his own works. In the 1950s and 60s, Mr. Ailey performed in four Broadway shows, including House of Flowers and Jamaica.
In 1958, he led a group of young black modern dancers in a performance in New York City that changed forever the perception of American dance. Since then, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — a company dedicated to enriching the American modern dance heritage and preserving the uniqueness of the African American cultural experience — has gone on to perform for an estimated 25 million people in 71 countries on six continents.
He established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (now The Ailey School) in 1969 and formed the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now Ailey II) in 1974. Mr. Ailey was a pioneer of programs promoting arts in education, and the final program he launched before his passing in 1989 was AileyCamp — a full-scholarship summer day camp for young people ages 11–14 in underserved communities, now in 10 cities nationwide.
Throughout his lifetime, Ailey received numerous honors and awards, including several honorary doctoral degrees, a 1976 NAACP Spingarn Award, and a 1982 United Nations Peace Medal. From the dance world, he received the 1975 Dance Magazine Award, the 1979 Capezio Award and modern dance’s most prestigious prize — the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award — in 1987.
In 1988, he received the Kennedy Center Honor in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to American culture and achievement in the performing arts. He was posthumously awarded the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom, celebrating him as a leader at the forefront of LGBTQ equality.
Ailey’s legendary dance company makes its Music City stop at TPAC’s Jackson Hall for a limited, two-evening engagement Feb. 28 and 29.
So without further adieu, let’s take a look at a complete timeline of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and how one African American from the segregated South started the world’s largest modern dance company.
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1958 – Alvin Ailey, who believed passionately that “dance belongs to everyone,” and a group of young black dancers perform for the first time as members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York’s 92nd Street Y.
1960 – Alvin Ailey choreographs his classic masterpiece Revelations, which brings international acclaim. During the organization’s first 10 years, Ailey created 20 new ballets; during his lifetime, he choreographed 79 ballets.
1962 – AAADT is chosen to go on an extensive tour to the Far East, Southeast Asia and Australia as part of President John F. Kennedy’s progressive “President’s Special International Program for Cultural Presentations.”
1965 – Judith Jamison joins Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and becomes widely recognized as an international dance star.
1967 – AAADT embarks on a 3-month, 10-country African Tour for the State Department.
1968 – AAADT performs for President Johnson at the White House.
1969 – Alvin Ailey founds The Ailey School.
1970 – AAADT’s second State Department-sponsored tour of North Africa and Europe. AAADT also tours the USSR – the first visit by an American modern dance company since the days of Isadora Duncan. The Washington Post reports that the Company was kept onstage for 20 minutes of curtain calls after a sold-out opening night in Moscow.
1971 – Alvin Ailey choreographs Cry for Judith Jamison as a birthday present to his mother. Cry becomes an instant hit, bringing even greater popularity to Mr. Ailey as a choreographer and Ms. Jamison as a dancer.
1974 – Ailey II is founded to develop young artists and new dance audiences.
CBS airs “Ailey Celebrates Ellington,” Alvin Ailey’s dance tribute to the American jazz legend.
1977 – AAADT performs at the inaugural gala for President Jimmy Carter at the White House.
1982 – Alvin Ailey receives the United Nations Peace Medal.
1983 – AAADT celebrates its 25th anniversary with an anniversary benefit The New York Times calls “the biggest celebration of all” and further proclaims that “The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is not just a company; it is a school of thought.”
1985 – AAADT is the first modern dance company to go on a US government-sponsored tour of the People’s Republic of China since the normalization of Sino-American relations.
1988 – Alvin Ailey receives The Kennedy Center Honors for Lifetime Contributions to American Culture through the Performing Arts and New York’s City’s highest cultural honor – the Handel Medallion.
1989 – Upon Alvin Ailey’s death and at his request, Judith Jamison is named Artistic Director. Under her leadership, the company flourishes, building an unparalleled reputation for performance, education, and innovation.
Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey is founded and subsequently launches the Company’s national AileyCamp program.
1991 – AileyCamp established in New York City. This program is successfully replicated in cities nationwide and continues to inspire thousands of inner-city youth.
1994 – AAADT performs at the televised inaugural gala for President Bill Clinton, seen by 80 million viewers, and was featured on The Phil Donahue Show, reaching 18 million viewers.
Judith Jamison’s autobiography, Dancing Spirit, edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, is published by Doubleday.
Ailey in the Park attracts 30,000 spectators, who congregate in New York City’s Central Park to see the live performance.
1995 – Judith Jamison and the Company are featured in a commercial broadcast on the Academy Awards and Super Bowl telecasts as part of a very successful American Express ad campaign. Advertising Age calls it “the campaign of the decade.”
1996 – Jennifer Dunning’s loving, biographic tribute, Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance, is published by Addison Wesley.
1997 – Historic AAADT residency in South Africa, signaling the end to a long cultural boycott of the old apartheid regime by the world performing arts community.
1998 – The Ailey organization pioneers its new B.F.A. program – a joint venture between the Ailey and Fordham University, which offers students a unique opportunity to receive both superb dance training and a superior liberal arts education.
1999 – Judith Jamison receives The Kennedy Center Honors for Lifetime Contributions to American Culture through the Performing Arts.
Orlando Bagwell’s documentary “A Hymn for Alvin Ailey” is broadcast nationally on PBS’ Great Performances, inspired by Judith Jamison’s work Hymn, her powerful tribute to Alvin Ailey, in collaboration with Tony nominee Anna Deavere Smith. Judith Jamison wins a Prime-Time Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Choreography.
2002 – President George W. Bush awards the 2001 National Medal of Arts to both Judith Jamison and the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation. The Foundation is the first dance organization in history to be given this prestigious award and it is the first time ever than an arts organization and its artistic director have been recognized independently for this honor.
Judith Jamison carries the Olympic torch in Salt Lake City, UT prior to the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics. AAADT performs Jamison’s HERE…NOW, commissioned for the Olympic Arts Festival.
2003 – AAADT performs at the White House State Dinner honoring President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya.
2004 – The United States Postal Service issues a first-class postage-stamp honoring Alvin Ailey as part of the American Choreographers stamp series, which commemorates four visionary 20th century choreographers who left a profound mark on the language of dance.
2005 – The Ailey organization celebrates the official opening and public dedication of its new home, The Joan Weill Center for Dance, New York City’s largest building dedicated to dance.
AAADT returns to Russia, becoming the only American company to perform in the Stars of the White Nights Festival and the first modern dance company presented at the legendary Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.
Launch of The Ailey Extension, a new program for the general public that offers “real classes for real people” with a variety of techniques taught morning, noon and night.
2006 – The Library of Congress announces the donation of the Ailey archives to “the nation’s library,” which will preserve the materials, digitize them and make them more widely available to future generations. According to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, it is “…a major achievement for the Library.”
PBS Dance in America’s Beyond the Steps: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which chronicles the 2005 tour to Russia, the Ailey organization’s move into its new home and the creation of the acclaimed ballet Love Stories, premieres.
2007 – AAADT is featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the season opening of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
2008 – The Ailey organization launches its 50th anniversary celebration with 18 months of special performances, projects and events, including: The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. opens the exhibit Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: 50 Years as Cultural Ambassador to the World. AAADT is the first concert dance company to perform on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance. The Ailey organization creates special commemorative merchandise in celebration of the 50th anniversary including a Barbie® Doll, Hallmark greeting cards, a Movado Museum Timepiece, and a photographic art book Ailey Ascending: A Portrait in Motion by renowned photographer Andrew Eccles.
Ailey holds free summer performances in all five boroughs of New York City, including a street party on 55th street in front of New York City Center. An estimated 40,000 people attend one of these events. AAADT launches its five-week 50th Anniversary Season at New York City Center with a Golden Anniversary Gala with Honorary Chair Oprah Winfrey. The season includes special live performances with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Sweet Honey in the Rock. The US Congress passes a resolution naming Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater a vital American “Cultural Ambassador to the World.”
2009 – AAADT kicks off its 50th Anniversary U.S. Tour to 26 cities in Washington, D.C. where President Obama and the First Family attend a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
2010 – Tracy Inman and Melanie Person become co-directors of The Ailey School, succeeding the late Denise Jefferson, who led the School for about 25 years.
First Lady Michelle Obama honors Ms. Jamison at The White House Dance Series: A Tribute to Judith Jamison, celebrating her career as an American dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director of the Company for the past 20 years.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg presents Judith Jamison with highest honor awarded by the City of New York – the Handel Medallion for distinguished achievement in the arts.
2011 – During Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 2011 International Tour Judith Jamison passes the mantle of Artistic Director to Robert Battle on July 1, 2011. He becomes only the third person in the Company’s history to hold that position.
Robert Battle initiates a major new program: The New Directions Choreography Lab, designed to serve the entire field of dance. Assisting choreographers in developing their work, the program will grant resident fellowships to four emerging and mid‐career artists each year, offering a stipend, the use of gifted dancers from The Ailey School, creative mentorships and rehearsal time at The Joan Weill Center for Dance.
AileyCamp Newark launches to provide at-risk youth ages 11-14 with activities that build self-esteem, encourage creative expression, and impart life skills such as goal-setting, self-discipline, and teamwork. AileyCamps operate in ten sites, and engage nearly 1,000 young people across the country: Atlanta, GA; Berkeley/Oakland, CA; Boston, MA; Bridgeport, CT; Chicago, IL; Kansas City, KS; Kansas City, MO; Miami, FL; Newark, NJ; New York City.
10-year agreement announced with New York City Center designating Ailey as the venue’s Principal Dance Company and providing financial support for the creation of one new dance work for the Company’s performances at the landmark theater during each of the next ten seasons.
The U.S. Senate passes a resolution recognizing the artistic and cultural contributions of AAADT and the 50th Anniversary of the first performance of Alvin Ailey’s masterwork, Revelations. Authored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and co-sponsored by Senators Charles E. Schumer and Robert Menendez, this resolution honors Revelations as a timeless classic “beloved by people around the world” with universal themes “that illustrate the strength and humanity within all of us.”
2012 – After 38 years, Sylvia Waters steps down and her personally-selected successor, Troy Powell takes the reigns of Ailey II as Artistic Director on June 30. Mr. Powell began his dance training at the age of nine as a scholarship student at The Ailey School, later dancing with Ailey II and then Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, before rejoining Ailey II first as a resident choreographer, then as Associate Artistic Director.
Launch of the Ailey Legacy Residency — a new lecture, technique and repertory program for college-level students looks definitively into the history and creative heritage of Alvin Ailey — led by Sylvia Waters.
Ailey board appoints Bennett Rink as the new Executive Director of Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, succeeding Sharon Gersten Luckman, who planned to step down in January 2013 after over two decades with the organization.
2013 – An historic engagement at Lincoln Center, for the first time in 13 years, launches 2013-14 season led by Robert Battle, which also includes visits to Brazil and Argentina and a record-breaking five-week engagement at New York City Center. Ailey II’s first New York season led by Artistic Director Troy Powell also breaks box office records.
2014 – Another record-breaking New York City Center Season: for the second consecutive year, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater broke New York City Center season box office records — nearly 70,000 audience members attend a total of 39 performances during the five-week engagement from December 4, 2013 to January 5, 2014.
In the second season under the artistic direction of Troy Powell, Ailey II celebrated its 40th anniversary. The company performs for approximately 40,000 people in 33 cities worldwide, including five cities across France, Germany, Poland and Luxembourg, and 28 cities in the United States and Canada.
Robert Battle visits the White House to accept from President Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor posthumously awarded to Alvin Ailey in recognition of his contributions to civil rights and dance in America.
2015 – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater makes an historic return to South Africa after nearly 20 years, performing in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and leading workshops, master classes, and lecture demonstrations in over two dozen schools, universities, and community centers.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater makes its national cinema debut as part of “Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance.” Shown on approximately 600 screens across the country, the film includes Chroma by Wayne McGregor, Grace by Ronald K. Brown, Takademe by Robert Battle, and Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece Revelations, along with a rare look behind the scenes and exclusive interviews with the artists.
Simon & Schuster publishes MY STORY, MY DANCE: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey, an inspiring children’s book based on Mr. Battle’s life. His landmark year continues with the December debut of Awakening, his first world premiere since becoming Artistic Director.
2016 – Judith Jamison’s contributions to dance are celebrated at a White House Black History Month event hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama.
AileyCamp expands to ten cities nationwide, including Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Berkeley/ Oakland, CA; Chicago, IL; Kansas City, KS; Kansas City, MO; Miami, FL; New York, NY; Newark, NJ; and Seattle/Tacoma, WA.
First Lady Michelle Obama recognizes AileyCamp Miami with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award for being one of the country’s best after-school and out-of-school-time creative youth development programs using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment.
2016 – Jamar Roberts was awarded a 2016 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for Sustained Achievement “for impeccably representing the traditional values of classic modern dance while forging new paths with his sublime artistry, technical precision, and passionate presence with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.”
2017 – Ailey kicks off the pilot year of Destination Dance Ailey Atlanta, an initiative that leverages Ailey’s unique position as the nation’s largest culturally diverse dance company to engage audiences, artists, teachers, and students in innovative ways throughout Atlanta, Georgia, in partnership with various cultural, educational, and civic organizations such as The Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta Ballet and High Museum of Art.
Ailey launches its newest curriculum initiative, Night Creature: An Imaginative Journey Through Dance, a program for elementary-age youth in 3rd through 5th grades based on the study of Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature, a fusion of Ailey’s buoyant choreography and Duke Ellington’s sparkling music, using imaginative thinking to provide connections to music, visual arts, socials studies, science, and literacy.
Logo Trailblazer Honors recognizes Alvin Ailey as pioneer who bravely fought for equality. Tribute aired nationally on Logo and VHL.
Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation opens The Elaine Wynn & Family Education Wing, a 10,000-squarefoot expansion of Ailey’s permanent home, The Joan Weill Center for Dance – New York City’s largest building dedicated to dance. Designed by The Center’s original architects, Iu + Bibliowicz Architects, The Elaine Wynn & Family Education Wing adds three floors to the west side of Ailey’s building to provide four additional dance studios, two new flexible classrooms, and added administrative office space Ailey’s
Artistic Director Emerita, Judith Jamison, was inducted in November 2017 into the Crain’s Hall of Fame, which honors business leaders who have transformed New York City in their professional work and in their civic and philanthropic activities.
Veteran Ailey company member Linda Celeste Sims was a 2017 recipient of the Dance Magazine Award.
Ailey dancer Jacquelin Harris was a 2017 recipient of the Princess Grace Dance Performance Award.
2018 – In honor of hometown native Jamar Roberts and the Miami premiere of his work Members Don’t Get Weary, the Miami-Dade County Commission presented him with proclamation declaring February 22, 2018 as Jamar Roberts Day. Roberts was also presented with a Key to the City.
Ailey II performed at the opening ceremony of the National Museum for Peace and Justice, the nation’s first comprehensive memorial dedicated to racial terror lynchings of African-Americans and the legacy of slavery and racial inequality in America, and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, AL in April.
Ailey believes the transformative power of dance is applicable for all ages and developed the AileyDance for Active Seniors program specifically for people age 60 and older, emphasizing the importance of strength training and mobility through movement while providing an outlet for artistic expression for elderly populations. Pilot residencies were hosted by New Settlement Community Center in the Bronx, and Union Settlement,James Lenox House, and Carnegie East House in Upper Manhattan.
BET and BLACK GIRLS ROCK! TM honor Judith Jamison with the Living Legend Award on national telecast which featured a special performance of Cry danced by Company dancer Jacqueline Green.
Heinemann Publishers created a Guided Reading Book for 1st and 2nd grade students about the Ailey Athletic Boys Dance program, which are being distributed to schools nationwide beginning in the fall of 2018.
The Ailey organization honors Mr. Ailey’s pioneering legacy with a 60th Anniversary celebration titled Ailey Ascending. The celebration consists of an international tour, a Choreography Unlocked festival of performance, conversation and master classes, expands to include exceptional discussions and legacy panels at partner institutions throughout New York City, and reaches a high point with a momentous New York City Center Season of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which features the company’s first two-act ballet, Lazarus, created by the organization’s inaugural artist-in-residence Rennie Harris.
2019 – The Ailey Spirit Gala launched The Ailey School 50th anniversary celebration, which premiered Testimony, a tribute piece choreographed by Ailey II Artistic Director Troy Powell. The special work featured five sections – AileyCampers (“Home) students from The Ailey School’s Junior (“The Beginning”) and Professional (“Perseverance”) Divisions, Ailey II (“Life Lessons”), and first company dancer Solomon.