Images of Alvin Ailey and his eponymous dance company taken by the photographer Jack Mitchell are now available via the Smithsonian’s Online Virtual Archives. For those of us who appreciate Ailey’s distinctively African-American rendition of modern and contemporary dance since the early ’60s it is a privilege being able to publicly access the collection of more than 10,000 photographs chronicling the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 1961 to 1994.
On December 1, recognized as Worlds AIDS Day, which also coincided with the 30th anniversary of Alvin Ailey’s death, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture made available the Jack Mitchell Photography of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Collection. The digitized collection includes 8,288 black-and-white negatives, 2,106 color slides and transparencies, and 339 black-and-white prints depicting the repertory of Alvin Ailey, choreographers, and iconic solo performers the company is known for. Acquired in 2013, the collection is jointly owned by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater grew from a now-fabled performance in March 1958 at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Led by Alvin Ailey and a group of young African-American modern dancers, that performance changed forever the perception of American dance.
The Ailey company has gone on to perform for an estimated 25 million people at theaters in 48 states and 71 countries on six continents – as well as millions more through television broadcasts, film screenings, and online platforms.
In 2008, a U.S. Congressional resolution designated the Company as “a vital American cultural ambassador to the world” that celebrates the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience and the preservation and enrichment of the American modern dance heritage. When Mr. Ailey began creating dances, he drew upon his “blood memories” of Texas, the blues, spirituals, and gospel as inspiration, which resulted in the creation of his most popular and critically acclaimed work, Revelations. Although he created 79 ballets over his lifetime, Mr. Ailey maintained that his company was not exclusively a repository for his own work.
Today, the Company continues Mr. Ailey’s mission by presenting important works of the past and commissioning new ones. In all, more than 235 works by over 90 choreographers have been part of the Ailey company’s repertory.
Before his untimely death in 1989, Alvin Ailey named Judith Jamison as his successor, and over the next 21 years, she brought the Company to unprecedented success. Ms. Jamison, in turn, personally selected Robert Battle to succeed her in 2011, and The New York Times declared he “has injected the company with new life.”
Source: Seph Rodney at Hyperallergic