By Walter Rutledge
The annual Ailey At The Apollo Spring Gala Benefit Performance took place Tuesday May 4, 2010. The world famous Apollo Theater literally rolled out the red carpet for the 6:30pm “photo- op” prior to the 7pm curtain. Toyota Avalon was the official partner on the red carpet.
Prominent figures from the worlds of business, philanthropy, entertainment joined fans of the company for this important arts event. The proceeds would benefit the Ailey Arts in Education Programs, which include AileyCamp and scholarship opportunities for talented students to attend The Ailey School. In the spirit of giving back, four hundred tickets were offered to school age students living in the Harlem community.
The performance was followed by a receptions in a tent constructed to the rear of the Apollo. Patrons and performers past and present partied in true Ailey style to the music of DJ Cassidy, while dining on a sumptuous buffet. The revelry was a fitting celebratory conclusion to an evening designed to extol and support dance for the next generation.
The festivities began with a brief introduction by Anthony M. Carvette board member and co-chair of the event. Mr. Carvette informed the capacity crowd that over $710,000 had been raised to support the initiatives. No small feat in these hard pressed economic times.
In short order he introduced the present Artistic Director Judith Jamison. She entered wearing a simple draped black pants ensemble with a long red scarf, thus drawing all the attention to her stunning face and baldhead. Her dangling teardrop earrings and plethora of red, yellow and blue beaded necklaces (which visually seemed to created a breastplate) gave her the appearance of a Massai elder.
Ms. Jamison was both eloquent and down to earth. Her energy and tireless love for dance, the Ailey Organization, and her mentor Alvin Ailey loomed large from the stage. At one point she acknowledge Robert Battle, the Artistic Director Designate and asked him to join her on stage. Ms. Jamison concluded by sharing with us the first act performances, and the dancing got underway.
The entire event was Aileyque in design; in other words fast paced, theatrical and visually breathtaking. An excerpt from “Uptown” by Matthew Rushing was the perfect opening work. What better way to begin a celebration uptown in Harlem than with a work that celebrates the Harlem Renaissance.
“Uptown” premiered during the 2009 Ailey season at City Center. The cast has grown into the roles and characters that depict Harlem during the heyday of the 1920’s. What was so noteworthy is how much Harlem has retained its “favor” many of these same characters depicted we passed on our way to the gala.
Ronald K. Brown has a signature style as individual and distinctive as an artist’s brush strokes. “Come Ye: Amen” set to the music of Nigerian afro- beats artist Fela Anikulapo Kuti was performed by The Ailey School. It was an extension of his advocacy to acquaint audiences with the beauty of traditional African forms and rhythms.
As homogeneous as water in a wave is the only way to describe the Ailey II performance of an excerpt from Thang Dao’s “Echoes”. Mr. Dao, a two-time recipient of the Princess Grace Award, has created a work with a soul. The solo performed by dancer Chang Yong Sung was a choreographically complete composition, and could have easily stood on its own.
The first act closed with a powerful solo entitled “In/Side” choreographed by Robert Battle. Set to the Nina Simone classic “Wild Is The Wind” the work was stunning in both design and execution by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Samuel Lee Roberts. “In/Side” captured the audience with intense emotion, explosive movement and the power of stillness.
Following the intermission the program resumed with Honorary Chair Tamara Tunie introducing the event honorees Pamela Zilly and John Schaefer. These are two of the unsung heroes who have worked to secure the future of the Ailey Organization. Ms. Jamison joined Ms. Tunie on stage to personally thank Ms. Zilly and Mr. Schaefer for their loyalty and unwavering support.
The excerpt from Alvin Ailey’s 1958 timeless work Revelations began by referencing another book from the bible. To be precise Isaiah chapter eleven verse six, “And a child shall lead them”. Preteen students from the Ailey school dressed in white lead a pre- processional to the Take Me to the Water section.
The pre-processional with all of its promise of the future was also a look to the past. This brief, but inspiring moment epitomizes the credo of founder Alvin Ailey, and this moment suddenly became bittersweet. The 20-year celebration also marked the 21 years since the passing of the Gentle Giant- Alvin Ailey.
If you ever had the privilege to meet him he was the most approachable and unassuming individual. Back at the school on 59th Street he would look in on the classes before he climbed the stairs to his office. He was always encouraging to young people and took the time to remember your name.
Watching the performance it become clear the ephemeral nature of dance. The performance was a fleeting moment of energy and artistry; the future merged into the present, and the present quickly became the past. The performance of Levi Phillip Marsman in “I Wanna Be Ready” became one of those fleeting moments; it brought back the memory of Ailey’s lyric prince Dudley Williams.
Throughout the rest of Revelations the memories of performers past danced before my eyes. The performances of Jamar Roberts, Clifton Brown and Kirven James Boyd were strong and dynamic. The audience roared in the blackout. Somewhere between time and space, between the darkness and applause Morton Winston, Masazumi Chaya, and Desmond Richardson were also on the stage. In “The Day is Past” remembrances of the applause garnering and anticipated entrance of Ms. Jamison, who eventually silenced a flurry of chattering fans, interceded.
This gala and the celebration of Ms. Jamison 20 years are also a part of the testament to the fifty-two year legacy of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre; and the even larger and more profound vision of Alvin Ailey. Simply put, his vision is to share the gift of dance and the experience of movement with everyone. The Ailey at the Apollo Gala honors his vision, and will help insure it’s continuous.
Over the past 20 years “Ailey” has been transformed from a proper name into a word -noun, verb and adjective; all are synonymous with excellence, and a higher level of consciousness. I truly believe Alvin Ailey is looking down from above the clouds with pride. And if there is a heaven the angels are not only singing, they are also dancing.
In Photo 1) Anika Noni Rose, Judith Jamison, Tamara Tunie *2) Christopher and Janice Savin Williams, Sanford and Joan Weill, John Schaefer, Judith Jamison, Pamela Zilly, Lynne and Anthony M. Carvette* 3) Yusha Sorano and Linda Celeste Sims in Matthew Rushings Uptown** 4) Ailey II in Thang Dao’s Echoes*** 5) Chang Yong Sung in Echoes ***6) Samuel Lee Roberts in In/Side by Robert Battle** 7) John Schaefer, Judith Jamison and Pamela Zilly* 9) Linda Celeste Sims, Alicia Graf amd Glenn Allen in Revelations+ 10) Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Revelations** 11) Dudley Williams in I Wanna Be Ready++ 12) Judith Jamison in Revelations+++ 13) Alvin Ailey photo by Eric N. Hong
Photo Credits * Colin Williams, **Paul Kolnik, ***Eduardo Patino, + Andrew Eccles, ++Strunz Wolfgang, +++Revelation_courtofarhives