A few months ago, The Music Center of Los Angeles launched The Music Center Offstage digital platform which has been invaluable to keeping the connective tissue that holds the audience together with the performers. In normal times, that connection takes place in the theaters, black boxes, studios, etc. On August 23, 2020,  at 2:00pm, the upcoming Offstage event called INSIDE LOOK will present a salute to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s iconic Revelations, choreographed by Ailey in 1960 when he was just 29 years old. It is a work that has endured and one that continues to be very much in demand when the company performs anywhere in the world.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Matthew Rushing - Photo by Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Matthew Rushing – Photo by Andrew Eccles

The Music Center Offstage will offer audiences three different avenues to experience and enjoy Ailey’s Revelations. The presentation will begin with an introduction by native Angeleno and Music Center Spotlight Finalist Matthew Rushing. Rushing joined the Ailey Company in 1992, Rehearsal Director in June 2010, and finally the Associate Artistic Director in 2020. Following Rushing’s introduction, viewers will be treated to Ailey dancers performing sections of Revelations, including the emotional “I Been ‘Buked,” the rousing “Wade in the Water” and the triumphant finale “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham”.

Perhaps novel to this experience will be the chance for observers to learn some of Ailey’s choreography as taught by dancer and choreographer Hope Boykin, who just recently retired after performing for 20 years with the company. The press release states that Boykin “breaks down the moves in an upbeat, highly accessible manner”.  Finally, a Q&A session with Rushing will give viewers an opportunity to ask questions about Revelations.

What some readers may not know is that Ailey began his career right here in Los Angeles with the Lester Horton Dance Group (later called the Dance Theater of Los Angeles). He was born in Texas, worked in cotton fields as a child, and found refuge in the church where he watched adults dance. Ailey and his mother moved to Los Angeles in 1941, attended George Washington Carver Junior High School and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School. The first dance performances Ailey saw were by the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo where he heard the call of Terpsichore, the goddess of dance. It was his good friend Carmen De Lavallade who introduced Ailey to the classes of Lester Horton on Melrose Avenue.

It was not until after Ailey had studied other forms of dance, attended academic courses, and in partnership with Maya Angelou, then known as Marguerite Johnson, formed a nightclub act called “Al and Rita”. that he joined Horton company in 1953, the same year Horton died of a heart attack. Following Horton’s death, Ailey took over leadership of the company. In 1954, Ailey and De Lavallade took work on Broadway in Herbert Ross’ “House of Flowers”.

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Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" - Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre - Photo by Paul Kolnik

Following a series of tours, in 1958 Ailey and a group of young Black modern dancers gave a concert at New York’s 92nd Street YMCA. They did so under the name Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with only seven dancers. Ailey was the company’s director, choreographer, and principal dancer, and it was during this time that he choreographed Revelations. The company became multi-racial in 1962 and they began touring internationally. The Ailey Company was the first “Black” company to travel for President Kennedy’s program known as “President’s Special International Program for Cultural Presentations” and one of the company’s most famous dancers Judith Jamison joined the company in 1965.

Ailey went on to form the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, later re-named The Ailey School and the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble that grew into what is now known as Ailey II. Before his death on December 1, 1989, Ailey chose Judith Jamison to succeed him as artistic director and the entire Ailey organization moved to 211 West 61st Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The Ailey School and nearby Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), Fordham University, have since affiliated to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree program.

This salute to Alvin Ailey’s Revelations will be aired at musiccenter.org on August 23, 2020 at 2:00pm and it will be available through September 30, 2020 with limited on-demand viewing opportunity. Closed captioning will be available for the deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.

For more information, click HERE.

To visit the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater website, click HERE.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ailey’s Revelations – Photo by Christopher Duggan