Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Don't Just Stand There, Bust A Move"

No, I don't plan on writing about "Bust A Move" right now, but I figured it's a catchy title. I do plan on writing a post about the Young MC song later though. So, stay tuned! I do want to talk about another man who could definiatly move, Alvin Ailey. Ailey was born on January 5, 1931 (the same year as Etheridge Knight) in Rogers, Texas to working class parents. Nothing special, right? Wrong. Ailey was one of the most influential dancers and choreographers of his time. But, more importantly, he was one of the most influential African-American dancers and choreographers ever. His introduction to dance came when his mother moved him to Los Angeles in 1942 after his parent's divorce. Seven years later his future dance partner, Carmen De Lavallade, introduced Ailey to Lester Horton's Hollywood studio and he immediately fell in love with dance. Ailey poured his heart and soul into developing his already athletic body into a well trained machine. In 1953, Ailey took over Lester Horton's study pending his death. His niche for dancing developed rapidly and by 1954 he was performing on the Broadway stage with Carmen De Lavallade in "House of Flowers." But, Broadway was far from Ailey's greatest accomplishment. In 1958, Alvin Ailey founded his own dance company, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

With his dance company, Alvin Ailey led the black arts movement in dance. The company began with 7 principal dancers, trained in modern technique, dancing pieces inspired by the life of African-Americans, just as Gwendolyn Brooks and Etheridge Knight's poetry was inspired by the lives of African-Americans. One of his first great pieces was "Blues Suite," which premiered in 1958. The conception of the piece was inspired by Ailey's boyhood in Texas. It depicted the joys and aspirations of African-Americans living on the edge, struggling with the poverty in their lives. I personally love Ailey's use of male dancers, because his male company dancers are always so strong and they create such a great presence on the stage. If you check out the video, which is the link that says "Blues Suite," you are able to see the strength and determination he wanted to show in the piece in one movement, the unison back attitude turn. It's my favorite part of the clip. (I am also insanely jealous of how athletic the Ailey's dancers always are, so I think that could be why I love the attitude turns.) So check the video out and while you're there, check out some of the other pieces Ailey choreographed, such as pieces from his larger piece "Revelations." "Revelations" is a collection of pieces set to slave spirituals and gospel selections. The piece is the most recognized piece that Ailey choreographed and probably the most powerful. ("Wade In the Water" and "Fix Me Jesus" are personal favorites of mine. Check them out.) I don't want to say "I'm not being biased, but..." because the truth is I am very biased. Alvin Ailey is one of the great choreographers of the 20th century (and a personal favorite of mine), but that's not the only reason he is amazing. Alvin Ailey did for the dance world what Brooks and Knight were doing for the poetry world, celebrating the life and history of African-Americans. If you ever get a chance to see an Ailey tribute or the company perform, take it. Dance was meant to be seen and if it has accomplished it's purpose it will be both an emotional and rewarding experience.

If you are interested in learning more about Alvin Ailey I would recommend checking out this bio from PBS, it's really great. There is also a really great article from NPR that talks about the 45th anniversary show and it has a really great audio recording on the page too. Check it out.


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