Masters at Work, The Ailey-Ellington Connection

When producers Kenny “Dope” Gonzales and Louie Vega formed Masters at Work in 1990, they proceeded to create a catalog that contains some of house music’s most recognizable classics.  Such is the case when two great creative minds come together to collaborate.  It seemed that from the time Alvin Ailey hit the streets of The Big Apple in 1954, he and Duke Ellington’s paths were destined to meet.  Both he and Ellington were born in different areas of the country but had come to New York City to pursue their art, although by the time young Ailey had arrived, Ellington had already cemented his legacy as a jazz virtuoso.  However, it didn’t take long for Ailey to begin to carve a name for himself in the world of dance.  With pieces like “Revelations” and “Blues Suite”, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which was formed in 1958, quickly became a sensation in the modern dance scene.  Like Ellington, Ailey was known for a unique style infusing ballet, Horton, jazz and African dance  techniques.  Also like Ellington, Ailey lifted his art above the grouping of race which allowed his work to be recognized as an American art form the world over.

AAADT's Demetia Hopkins in Alvin Ailey's The River.  Photo by Paul KolnikIn 1970, Alvin Ailey and Duke Ellington’s paths finally met.  American Ballet Theater commissioned Ailey to create “The River”.  The ballet was the first collaboration between Alvin Ailey and Duke Ellington.  Ailey would again refer to Ellington’s music when he created “Night Creature” in 1974 and “Pas de Duke” in 1976.  For the 2013 season, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater paid homage to these late geniuses and their collaborations by premiering new productions of “The River” and “Pas de Duke” at the New York City Center.  Along with the first season’s performance of “Night Creature” and Ailey’s most seminal work, “Revelations”, the debut of these works was an evening of remembrance, revelry and appreciation for beauty, physicality and style in motion.

AAADT weaves athleticism and artistry so seamlessly that it takes the medium of dance to another level.  Visually stunning and always breathtaking to behold, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater never fail to provide its audience with the most soul-stirring shows they will ever see.  It is where perfection and performance meet.  This sentiment simply radiates through “The River”, a work that utilizes the entire company and is as moving, fierce and romantic as its namesake.   With the accompaniment of Duke Ellington’s score driving this piece forward, the love Ailey had for dance is truly exhibited.  The way in which he carefully blended classical ballet elements together with modern techniques is nothing short of masterful.    “The River” is energetic; it rolls and sweeps the audience in its majesty.  It is a living example of the brilliance of these two men.

AAADT's Antonio Douthit-Boyd and Linda Celeste Sims in Alvin Ailey's Pas de Duke.  Photo by Paul Kolnik“Pas de Duke” was first created for Ailey’s muse Judith Jamison and ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov. Black and white, modern versus ballet, Eve and Adam, “Pas de Duke” is witty, flirtatious, sophisticated and utterly charming.  Ailey must of thought of the song “Anything You Can Do” when he choreographed this piece.

Alvin_Ailey_American_Dance_Theater_in_Alvin_Ailey_s_Night_Creature._Photo_by_Krautbauer_2_As one of the children of the night, I have always had a fondness for those who skulk down sidewalks, saunter into nightclubs and compete with colored spotlights for the glory of a night filled with sweat and velocity. On many occasions, I have been one of them creating new realities on the dance floor.  Ellington said, “Night creatures, unlike stars, do not come out at night, they come on.”  I would say they come out to be alive, alive in a way they can’t be when the sun is shining.  Alvin Ailey’s “Night Creature” is overflowing with life.  The company slinks, leaps and struts with authority.  It defines the sumptuous nightlife that New York City is known for.

AAADT_in_Alvin_Ailey_s_Revelations._Photo_by_Christopher_DugganThere can be no better end to an evening with AAADT than “Revelations”.  It is the work that Alvin Ailey is most known for and definitely on the top my list. Seeing Alvin Ailey’s choreography paired with Duke Ellington’s music gave me a few revelations of my own.  There is no debate why the majority of their works are regarded as masterpieces.  I would liken the Ailey-Ellington collaborations to an artistic atom bomb – an explosion of epic scale whose far reaching effects have spanned over generations.

Photos: Paul Kolnik, Christopher Duggan, Gert Krautbauer

Holiday Savings with AAADT

For those of you that are doing your Black Friday shopping online this evening, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is offering 40% off select performances at New York City Center.  The heat that emanates from the stage of any AAADT performance is surely hot enough to thaw a frigid night and is a cool alternative to the traditional holiday outings.

To order visit, and enter code ALYFRI. 

Need an extra incentive to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, well I’ve got one.  Your purchase guarantees you a “ticket-to-dance.”  “Ticket to Dance” offers a complimentary Ailey Extension class with a ticket stub from any Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater or Ailey II performance nationwide.  There are myriad techniques to choose from, including Horton, Ballet, Salsa as well as Yoga.   Now that is a gift that keeps giving.

Photo: Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Top Performers for 2012


I leap at any opportunity to see these uber talented dancers combine beauty and strength on a Manhattan stage.  For some dance is a religion.  AAADT is Mecca.  I can’t wait to make my yearly pilgrimage to the City Center so these artisans can rock my soul again.

To view F.A.M.E NYC Editor’s review of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, click

Photo:  Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Ambassadors of Time



In Interview with a Vampire, the vampire Armand chooses a companion from the current century in order to transition into a new era thereby keeping himself relevant.   So if you are one of the most recognized dance companies and global ambassadors of the arts, how do you maintain your dominance?  You take a page out of Armand’s book.  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has cultivated a reputation for excellence in dance and this season AAADT continues to stand on top of the Pantheon of modern dance companies by showcasing the future while continuing to preserve the best Ailey.

This season Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater premiered six productions at the New York City Center, two of which were new, three were company premieres and one a world premiere.  Along with staples such as Revelations, Night Creature, Minus 16 and Urban Folk Dance, AAADT confidently prances into the 21st century with athletic grace.

Evolution1_930With the exception of the iconic Revelations, I was privy to view a night of firsts for the company.  On December 5, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed Memoria and The Evolution of a Secured Feminine for the first time this season.  I also was fortunate enough to witness the world premiere performance of Another Night.  

Memoria, choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1979 and dedicated to the memory of his friend Joyce Trisler, is classic Ailey on display.  The work is celebratory and poignant, evoking spirits and emotion in each move.  To add a modern twist, members of The Ailey School, dressed in vibrant colors, joined the members of AAADT on stage bringing a zephyr of effervescence to an already powerful ballet. 

Like most of works performed by AAADT The Evolution of a Secured Feminine is a piece that is layered in sentiment, athletic perfection and sheer beauty.   Also, it possesses the potential to become iconic.  Choreographed by Camille A. Brown and performed by only one company member, Rachel McLaren, The Evolution of a Secured Feminine is a glorious narrative about love and loss from a woman’s perspective.

AnotherNight_930Another Night truly captured the essence of AAADT’s ability to fresh and contemporary.   Kyle Abraham is a rising star in the dance world, and after viewing this work I’m certain that he will take his place amongst dance royalty someday.  Set to Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia”, Abraham takes a timeless jazz tune and breathes new life into bebop with moves that remain true to Ailey’s Horton roots, but also carry the aesthetic and energy of New York’s underground dance scene.  Another Night reminded me of the countless nights I participated in circles, sprinkling baby powder on the floor.  When one of the dancers broke into a duck walk, I knew they were working for the children (of the night that is) and getting their life on that stage.  I wanted to get up and dance with them.  This season AAADT also bid farewell to Renee Robinson, her last performance with the company was December 9.   It was bittersweet to see her dance in Revelations one last time. 

The role of an ambassador is to represent his/her country or sovereign.  With Robert Battle now adding new chapters to the legacy Alvin Ailey built over 50 years ago, no one can deny that AAADT has represented their medium of the arts with unparalleled passion and will continue to not only remain majestic, but ageless as well.

Photos:  Andrew Eccles, Nan Melville, Paul Kolnik



Happy Holidays the Ailey Way

November and December are two of my favorite months to spend in New York City.  Not because of the brisk temperatures, holiday windows, Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center or tons of tourists and shoppers littering the streets, but because it means that Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is in town at New York City Center.  And yes – it’s that time of year again folks – time to see athletic splendor and dance perfection on stage (and of course, Revelations).

November also marks the third anniversary of F.A.M.E NYC!  And to thank all our FAMERS for their support I would like to share with you an interview with Aisha Mitchell, a feature dancer with AAADT, and give you the opportunity to see her and the rest of the phenomenal dancers of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in December.  To enter type, “I Love F.A.M.E NYC!” in the comment section below.  The giveaway ends on Cyber Monday at 12:00 a.m.  AAADT’s performances begin at New York City Center on November 28.

Enjoy the interview and good luck!

1.       You will be dancing several key roles throughout the season, is there any one in particular you look forward to performing? 
I’m really looking forward to performing Ulysses Dove’s Vespers this season. It’s a work I’ve always admired growing up. I think it visually showcases the many facets of being a woman from elegance and poise, to power and strength.   It’s an incredibly affirming journey to perform that piece with five other women from the company; it’s almost as if we’re dancing as one. 

2.       Revelations resonates with people regardless of ethnicity, age or cultural background and is Alvin Ailey’s most seminal work.  Could you tell us your thoughts about dancing in this iconic dance masterpiece?
We perform Revelations a lot. It would be so easy to become numb to doing the same steps over and over.   But it’s more than just steps, more than just a dance – it’s theater –  living art that we are creating on the stage.   Mr. Ailey’s choreography and the way he conceptualized the memories of his upbringing in the Baptist church for the stage is masterful.   It speaks to people on a level that they can relate to and that’s why the piece is still relevant after all these years.   I perform three roles in Revelations, in the sections “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel”, “Fix Me Jesus” and “Wade in the Water”.   These are iconic roles in the dance world.  We are so lucky to work with living legends on a regular basis.  Often Judith Jamison will come into rehearsal and work with us on mastering the nuances of the “Umbrella woman”, a role that she is famous for.   And our Associate Artistic Director Masazumi Chaya is in rehearsals daily. He knows most of Mr. Ailey’s work, he’s like a dance encyclopedia, it’s incredible having them around to keep the legacy alive.

3.       You have performed to several genres of music, but what genres, artists or songs personally get your dancer juices flowing?

I really love all music and my musical education is forever continuing.   I play Michael Jackson at the gym, and sometimes my tour roommate and I crank out Dirty South Hip Hop at 8 a.m. to energize our day!   Any time we travel to a different city, if there’s time, I try to catch some live music at a local spot. It gives touring its own little soundtrack and makes some cities more memorable too.

4.       You are a New Yorker, but which city is your favorite to travel to when performing?
Hopefully this won’t sound too cliché, but I’ve fallen in love with Paris.  I’ve been there twice now with the company and we’ve done three to four week runs.  It’s such a beautiful city, so rich in history and culture.   I could really get used to that lifestyle; sipping on a café in the morning with some leisurely reading, performing in historical opera houses and having a glass of Bordeaux to finish the evening. Perfection!

5.       Whether it’s going to practice or hanging out with friends, what three beauty items can you not leave home without?

Definitely lip balm, Nivea hand cream and mascara!

Photos:  Richard Calmes, Andrew Eccles

Harlem’s Hey Day Lives Vicariously through Cotton Club Parade

As a child I learned not to fool with the art of resurrection.  It is an act that should only be performed by the gods. Tinker with it, and you guarantee folly – The Exorcist taught me that –but when music is involved, you can almost ensure success.  And when a musical titan the likes of Wynton Marsalis is overseeing the music, you know it will be a masterpiece.  Such can be said about Cotton Club Parade; it revitalizes the era of The Harlem Renaissance with toe-tapping pleasure, pizzazz and the elegance of Ellington.

Imagine getting on the A train and instead of it taking you to the Harlem of today, it transports you back to a Harlem that buzzed with intellectuals such as W.E.B Dubois and Paul Robeson, luminaries like Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay and Langston Hughes and at night sizzled from the red hot jazz of Cab Calloway, Count Basie and Sir Duke.  Well hep cats, I’m here to tell you that time machine is Cotton Club Parade.

Cotton Club Parade ignites a spark that captivates the audience for 90-minutes without ever diminishing its flame.   For jazz lovers, the musical revue reintroduces the music and arrangements of Duke Ellington, and for audience members not familiar with music of The Cotton Club the show acquaints them with a vivacious, harmonious time in American music and pop culture that has long rested in the shadows of the  “15-minute” sensationalized society we have become accustomed to.  And in an effort to recognize the art of a more modern era, Cotton Club Parade infuses urban dance techniques like the moonwalk, made famous by Michael Jackson and is a staple in hip hop dancing.  But what I found most interesting about the connection explored in the dancing is how art and pop culture is a constant evolution of itself.  Cab Calloway did early variations of the moonwalk in the 1930s. 

Along with the modern dance elements, the choreography of Warren Carlyle was spot-on.  I haven’t seen such spectacular live hoofing in ages!  The Nicholas Brothers and Josephine Baker would’ve been proud.  The ensemble and Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars work like a well-oiled machine – no cracks in this production – no sir.  It is a buffet for the eyes and ears.  Audience members feast on selected texts from poet Langston Hughes and wonderful renditions of classics like “Diga Diga Doo”, “Ill Wind”, “Stormy Weather”, “I’ve Got The World on a String”, “Don’t Mean a Thing” and “Creole Love Call” courtesy of Glee’s Amber Riley, Joshua Henry, Carmen Ruby Floyd and others.

Last year Cotton Club Parade played at New York City Center, and Encores! jumped at the opportunity to showcase the production again this year.  And why wouldn’t they?   It is a wonderful awakening of The Harlem Renaissance and the artisans that made it such a significant movement in American history.  The show played its last performance at the City Center on the 18th, but it is my sincere hope that this production will play other famous theaters in NYC such as the Apollo and Lincoln Center and will tour nationwide so others can marvel at the brilliance of this show the way I did.

Photos:  Broadway

New Ailey Season Comes This Way

Under the leadership of Robert Battle, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is poised to add new treasures to their already voluminous, lionized legacy.  The world’s most dynamic and soulful dance company will be in the Big Apple at New York City Center from November 30 to January 1.  The “Cultural Ambassador to the World” is back home to dazzle New Yorkers with new ballets as well as with classics like “Revelations.”  But you do not have to believe me, take a look for yourself.


To order tickets, please click

Photo:  Paul Kolnik

Video courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Blazes New York City Center Stage and Passes the Torch

The first time I saw Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform I was 11-years-old, my parents had taken me to Symphony Hall in Newark, NJ.  Watching these powerful, magnificent performers’ radiate boundless energy and emotion left a distinct imprint on my brain cells that still remain.  Viewing Revelations, Ailey’s most recognized ballet, scratched my soul.  It spoke about the Black experience in a way that I had never witnessed before or after.  It spoke about my parents’ and grandparents’ experience.  It spoke about me, the legacy of triumph and struggle that I had inherited from past generations and would be responsible to pass on to the generation that followed me.  It spoke about my Sundays spent in church, the ability of a people to build a history without a full comprehension of where they came from and the sense of pride we carried throughout our journey.  After seeing Revelations, no one can walk out of the theater and not know what it feels like to be Black in America; it touches every fiber of the Black experience and can still make tears swell in my eyes.  The exquisite beauty of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s dancers and choreography still beckon to me.  As an adult I make sure to make a pilgrimage to what I consider to be the dancing Mecca of the world at least once a year.   

The roots Ailey planted when he first formed the company in 1958 have extended to touch the hearts and souls of citizens around the globe.  It is no wonder the company is called the “Cultural Ambassador to the World.”  There is one reason why Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has sustained such a high level of accolades and success, they are artistry of movement set to music personified. Revelations and all of the works that Ailey and others have choreographed for the company are rich in spirit, motion, music and drama.  After Alvin Ailey’s untimely death in 1989, Judith Jamison became the Artistic Director.  For me, Judith Jamison was the epitome of a female dancer. Her long, liquescent limbs made me pray (to no avail) for longer legs.  She brought a sense of regality with her on stage, a presence that still can be seen today.  Watching footage of her performing Cry will provoke the action to fall from your eyes. “Cry is a dance for all black women everywhere, especially our mothers. Dancing Cry, I was to be a woman who did the most servile of work but was never defeated by it. I didn’t even know about the special dedication until he (Alvin) showed me the program the night of my first Cry performance,” Ms. Jamison noted.  “It took eight days for Alvin to choreograph it.  I learned Cry in sections and Alvin gave me images of powerful women to use to express his vision. When performing Cry, you have to dig down deep, be venerable, use your dignity and of course passion! Looking back, Alvin gave me this dance and it’s a priceless gift.   I’ll always have it, along with the wisdom he passed down to me and that I pass down to women who perform Cry now.” 

Judith Jamison’s tenacity for preserving Alvin Ailey’s vision is one of the reasons why Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is the most beloved modern dance companies ever – an unyielding force of nature.   When asked her feelings regarding AAADT’s 50th anniversary in 2008, Ms. Jamison stated. “We’re living in his resonance, and in his vision that dance is for the people and should be delivered back to the people. We’ve performed worldwide and brought in many spectacular choreographers. For 50 years we’ve grown and expanded his goal.  Ailey II, The Ailey School, Ailey extension, and Arts in Education program are just a few examples of how AAADT has achieved Alvin’s goal.  Alvin Ailey will always be the root of this magnificent tree and his spirit will always be living through it.”

The 2010-2011 season for AAADT is bittersweet, this is Judith Jamison’s final year as Artistic Director as well as the 50th anniversary for Revelations.  In April, Ms. Jamison announced her retirement and named Robert Battle as her successor.  Currently he serves as Artistic Director Designate with Ms. Jamison until she assumes Emerita status on July, 1 2011.  In a press release Judith Jamison stated, “Robert has his own company and is a maverick in his choreography. He’s edgy and forward‐thinking, very talented and savvy—a lovely, intelligent person who in many ways reminds me of Alvin. He also has a worldview and is capable of taking this company in new directions, while at the same time understanding our traditions. Choosing Robert Battle is the giant leap I want to take to ensure that this company stays vibrant in the future.”  One of those traditions will be performing Revelations.   Each time I see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform I wait with bated breath until the curtain rises and “Pilgrim of Sorrow” begins.  I exhale and inhale this brilliant work, but I know that I am not the only one in the audience doing this. Although Revelations speaks to the Black experience, there is a cord running throughout the piece that everyone can connect to.  Everyone knows what it is like to feel down-trodden and experience pain, yet somehow transcend the tribulation and still project pride and exuberance.  When asked about Revelations universal appeal and longevity Ms. Jamison said, “The dancers have fully given themselves to this piece and I believe audiences can see and feel that, and that in itself touches them. We all want to leave the theater, being touched, inspired, or feeling something. Revelations always closes Ailey performances and audiences always leave the performances with more than just smile, they leave with their spirits raised.”

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will end their season with five weeks of performances at the New York City Center.   The company is pulling out all the stops with three premieres,  Anointed (choreographed by Christopher L. Huggins), The Hunt (choreographed by Robert Battle) and The Evolution of a Secured Feminine (choreographed by Camille A. Brown) as well as new productions of Cry, Three Black Kings and Mary Lou’s Mass, all originally choreographed by AileyFrom December 15 through December 19 Winton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will join AAADT.  Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock will join Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in a special rendition of Revelations on New Year’s Eve.  Celebrating Judith Jamison on January 2 will be their season finale. 

On December 2, Target and AAADT gave New Yorkers an early holiday gift by reducing the ticket price to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Revelations.  The vibe in the audience exuded the atmosphere of church – everyone knew someone and some came in groups.  The air of family carried on stage as the dancers performed Matthew Rushing’s Uptown – a pulsating multi-media extravaganza that celebrates the Harlem Renaissance in its entirety, Ronald K. Brown’s  Dancing Spirit – a must-see for anyone who has the soul of a dancer and Revelations.  As I sat in the audience, I did not feel as though I was looking at a group of performers, instead I felt like I was watching members of my own family cut up at a gathering.  I also felt the presence of Alvin Ailey and Judith Jamison.  While these talented disciples of Ailey’s dance style continue to entertain and inspire, his spirit is there looming like a proud father watching his child grow up to do great things.  I look forward to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s future with Robert Battle at the helm and am positive that he will continue what I believe is AAADT’s true legacy – producing art at its highest caliber.

Photos: AAADT in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations by Paul Kolnik, Judith Jamison by Max Waldman and Andrew Eccles,  Judith Jamison and Robert Battle by Andrew Eccles,  AAADT in Robert Battle’s The Hunt by Paul Kolnik, AAADT in Ronald K. Brown’s Dancing Spirit by Christopher Duggan