Dance is a difficult art form to document because it is, by its very nature, ephemeral. Retelling relies on movement and new performers reanimating choreography for fresh audiences. This month, to mark the 50-year anniversary of Alvin Ailey’s first public performance, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company performs at the New York City Center.
The show’s five-week run (December 3-January 4) tops a year of festivities, which included a street-naming gala, photography exhibitions, Hallmark greeting cards, a commemorative Barbie doll and perfomrances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. At the City Center the company will present 1958’s Blues Suite, Ailey’s first major piece; Ailey & Ellington, a special program, featuring Wynton Marsalis, that highlights the dancer’s work with Duke Ellington, and 1988’s Opus McShann, Ailey’s final work.
Matthew Rushing, a dancer with the company since 1992, says he believes that Ailey’s legacy was making his art accessible. As Rushing was drawn to dance, his mother fostered his budding interest and introduced him to Ailey’s work. “She told me, ‘Let me give you a taste of the best,'” says Rushing. And what he saw onstage resonated profoundly: “I saw my mother. I saw my history. I saw a reflection of me.”