Alvin Ailey Contextualisation
Ailey used his culture and many childhood memories to base his choreography on. Church and worship played a huge role in the lives of black Americans and was the center of Ailey’s community. “The exuberance and poignancy of the black experience are well served in Ailey’s splendid.
“The church was always very important, very theatrical, very intense. The life that went on there and the music made a great impression on me. ” (A. P Bailey 1997 pg. 8) He grew up in Texas in the 1930s with both racial segregation and the economy being big problems of the time. “Black lives were as peaceful and secure as racism and poverty would allow. (Dunning, 1996) “In those days black people were forced into certain sections of the town…you couldn’t buy a house in other sections of the town, so you had to go to schools that were essentially segregated’’.
In spite of the miserable living conditions Ailey’s community and others alike were joyful in church and the drew drop inn which was where all the adults used to go on Saturday nights to dance to the blaring juke box. The dew drop inn was a rough place to be. My mother was in there, and everybody was doing what they considered to be the nasty dances…many of the same people who went to dew drop inn on a Saturday night went to church on a Sunday morning. In dance I deal with these two very different worlds: Blues suite and revelations. ” (A. P Bailey 1997 pg23) At the age of 12 Ailey joined his mother in Los Angeles where she was to work as cleaner for a wealthy white family “I remember very well seeing my mother on her knees scrubbing these white folks’ rooms and halls.
That image is in my ballet cry” (A. P Bailey 1997pg32) Here he experienced the theatre and heard the music of Duke Ellington for the first time, who’s music he later came to create a total of 14 dances to. Including The River’ “The River is a legendary collaboration between Ailey and Ellington… was Ellington’s first symphonic score written specifically for dance…The legendary and highly acclaimed collaboration mirrors together the art forms beautifully. (http://www. exploredance. com/article. htm? id=1635) Creations of Two Masterful
Artists, Alvin Ailey and Duke Ellington by Amber Henrie December 28, 2006. It was not until the 1940s that Ailey took a serious interest in dance, seeing the Dunham Company perform excited him in a way that nothing ever had before. Proving it to be a transcendent experience for him, he felt a connection with her and her dancers and was ‘lifted into another realm. I couldn’t believe there were black people on a legitimate stage…before largely white audiences…doing afro-Caribbean.
Lester Horton not only inspired Ailey with his stylized technique and incredibly expressive movement but also in the way he offered his students a ‘complete education’ teaching them how to participate in all aspects of production from lighting and reading music to choosing the correct fabric for performances “He knew every fabric in the world and was extremely knowledgeable about color, design, dyeing and tailoring…I am still guided by Lester’s insistence that costumes must be made from extraordinary fabric” (A.P Bailey 1997 pg. 63)
The Horton Technique focus’ on movements that lengthen the spine and the hamstring muscles with flat backs, lateral stretches, descending and ascending from the floor into horizontal positions, release swings, leg swings and deep lunges all of which appear in Ailey’s works regularly. Lester Horton has proved to be Ailey’s biggest influence; the similarities between the 2 choreographers are due to Ailey’s awe of Horton, his works and his attitude.
As he just as Martha Graham had, had a mixed racial company “He realized that you have to use the best dancers regardless of color” (A. P Bailey 1997 Pg. 60) All of the above stylistic features are seen in works of Ailey’s such as Revelations, Cry and Witness to name a few. Each using deep plies and stunning lines to create interesting and meaningful viewing, using a combination of modern dance with jazz and classical ballet. Each with a meaning and a message to its audiences worldwide.
Ailey (cited by De Frantz) said From his roots as a slave, the American Negro – sometimes sorrowing, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful – has created a legacy… which have touched, illuminated and influenced the most remote preserves of world civilisation… We bring you the exuberance of jazz, the ecstasy of his spirituals and the dark rapture of his blues. ” Yet while Ailey drew lots of his choreography from his ‘blood memories’ he did create plot less works too, making more use of ballet technique which can be seen in Streams.
After Lester Horton’s death, Ailey founded his own company and had great success that still lives to this day; he and his company toured worldwide and were awarded with numerous honours before settling In New York. Yet Thomas F DeFrantz (2004) said the unasked question, implicit in dozens of feature articles and reviews, seemed to be: how could a gay black man from dirt-poor. Rural, depression-era Texas, with limited dance training and no college degree found and run the most successful modern dance company in the idiom’s history?