Speakeast with - Judith Jamison

Alvin Ailey's pioneering dance troupe, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Artistic director Judith Jamison has worked off and on (mostly on) with the company since 1965, when she joined as a dancer. She was hand-picked by Ailey and appointed as the company's artistic director shortly after Ailey's death in 1989. Jamison gushed about the troupe's upcoming performance at the Fox Theatre Feb. 19-22 during a phone interview last week, barely letting us get a word in. Her excitement about the anniversary tour is understandable. Heck, even the Obamas found time to make it out to a Feb. 6 performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Jamison on company founder Alvin Ailey's vision:

"Fifty years ago, Ailey just decided that there was no place for black dancers to be seen. ... The first work that he actually did was Blues Suite. And because there was this vacant spot for not celebrating our own culture – that of African and American – of course celebrating the modern tradition of our country, he decided to combine that in many ways. Abstractly, directly, story-telling, placing us in situations that we reflect on our culture as Americans and as African-Americans.

"... Because Alvin always believed that we're born to spread out. He happened to say that if the dance came from people it needed to be delivered back to the people, so there should not be a line between what's going on on the stage and what you're feeling when you're watching.

"... To be able to be in the dark in a huge place like that gorgeous Fox Theatre, which I love, and be in this huge space, and have your eyes do their own walking, you know what I'm saying? It's not controlled by anybody. The stage is yours. And we're there for you."

Jamison on AADT's trademark dance, Revelations:

"It's one of our classic works. It's about bell houses. It's about juke joints. It's about bordello light. It's about people who are frustrated and living on the edge and can't get out of this little tiny town that they're in, and in that town they're stuck. But they still, within that, have grown with grace and dignity. And on Saturday night they're at that club, they're at that party, they're out on the town. But on Sunday morning they're in church. Revelations.

Jamison on the African-American cultural experience:

"... There are people from all over the world in the company, who have come to study what our culture is about. And who have immersed themselves in our culture and found out ... the range of Mr. Alvin Ailey and how open-armed and how expressive we can be. You think of Masazumi Chaya, he's been with the company for 38 years. ... So here we are with this man from Fukuoka, Japan. ... Now the reason it makes sense is because he came to study because he saw this wonderful choreography. He saw this incredible culture. And he came to study it. And out of that, he says what he learned from Alvin is how to be a better human being. Now go with that. And be a better artist. Now how many people can say that?"

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