One of the most beautiful things about art—and dance specifically—is that it brings people from all backgrounds, races and religions together. Alvin Ailey said, “Dance came to the people and should be given back to the people.” Ailey gave us works of timelessness and energy that hit you at a core level, in your soul, no matter where you’re coming from in the world, what language you speak or what political party you are with. At a time where there’s so much tension surrounding race, gender and politics, it’s important to have places where people can feel united in an experience that might not be their own. People who did not grow up understanding African-american hymns, rituals and baptisms, or what it meant to grow up in the South, can see a completely different perspective. And for those who lived that history, it’s a full-circle moment.
In 1960, Ailey created a piece called “Revelations,” which the company has continued to perform ever since. It’s based on his blood memories, of growing up in the segregated South. At that time, the church was the hallmark of civilization for black people. The choreography in “Revelations” shows our humanity, that we are human, that we experience joy and pain. It’s triumphant too—no matter what you throw at African-americans, we tackle it. We persevere. And that is a story everybody can relate to.
JAMISON is a dancer and choreographer who was director (1989 to 2011) and is now artistic director emerita of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2018.