ALVIN AILEY (1931–1989) founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) to carry out his vision of a company dedicated to enriching the heritage of American modern dance as well as safeguarding the uniqueness of the African American cultural experience.
Ailey’s new company of seven dancers performed for the first time on March 30, 1958, at the 92nd Street Young Men’s Hebrew Association in New York City. By the time of his untimely death in 1989, AAADT had grown into a large multiracial dance company and one of the most respected and popular modern dance companies in the world. After fifty years, AAADT has provided cherished dance experiences for more than twenty-one million people in forty-eight states and seventy-one countries on six continents.
Although he created seventy-nine ballets during his lifetime, Ailey maintained that his company was not exclusively a repository for his own work. He envisioned a company that would both commission new works and present important ones from the past. In this role, AAADT is an acknowledged treasure of American modern dance choreography, having produced over 200 works by more than 70 choreographers.
As one of the most respected modern dance choreographers of the twentieth century, Ailey’s commissions included American Ballet Theater, Joffrey Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, and Royal Danish Ballet. He was also invited to choreograph for Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra (1966) for the inauguration of the Metropolitan Opera’s new home at New York’s Lincoln Center and for Leonard Bernstein’s Mass (1971), which celebrated the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Alvin Ailey died on December 1, 1989. On December 20, 1989 Judith Jamison, Ailey’s muse for more than twenty years, was named Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.