By Sabrina L. Miller, Ailey Aficionado, friend of an Ailey Ambassador
My mother was a huge modern dance fan who was unrepentant in dragging me –willingly—all over the city to see every local and national dance company she loved—Joseph Holmes, Darlene Blackburn, Muntu, Martha Graham, Joffrey, among others, and, of course, Alvin Ailey. Sometimes my dad or my sister would join us. But the deep love for the dance—bordering obsession, probably—was something very special that my Mother and I shared. So, I’m lucky. My love for Ailey was developed early.
I’ve carried this love for Ailey and passed it on to many others everywhere I’ve lived in the country—and the world. I lived in Florida for a decade, spread between Tampa Bayand Miami, and I never, ever missed Ailey’s stops there, and always made sure I took others who had not yet experienced the beauty and the genius. Often, I’d attend every performance—or I’d attend as many performances as my budget would accommodate.
I haven’t missed “Ailey Week” at the Auditorium Theatre…well, ever. Certainly not in the last 13 years. I’ll never forget Ailey Week in 2000 because my grandmother—my mother’s mother—died the day before opening night. Mom, Dad and I already had tickets so we went. By the time “Fix Me, Jesus” was being performed in “Revelations,” my mother and I had a moment where we looked at each other, tears streaming down both of our faces, and we smiled. Without speaking a word, we both felt the spirit of my grandmother with us, and despite our sorrow we felt comfort in her transition, as she had now become one of the ancestors Alvin Ailey was thinking of when he created this great work.
It is a poignant, indelibly etched memory, because it was the last Ailey performance I would share with my mother—she died unexpectedly a month later.
When Ailey week rolled around in 2001, I was ambivalent. I didn’t know if I was emotionally ready to experience Ailey without the woman who gave me life—the very person who gave life to my lifelong love for the dance and for Ailey itself. But I soldiered through. And at the end of Revelations, with tears streaming down my face, I blew kisses to the air, thinking of my mother, my grandmother, Mr. Ailey – all ancestors now, and part of the continuum and narrative of Black life that he envisioned…
Ailey Week, for me, is never just about me. It’s about celebrating the ancestors. It’s about celebrating my mother. I take great comfort and joy in what has become a ritual for me. That the 2013 series has been expanded to two weeks is phenomenal and fitting—Chicago loves Ailey and has always supported the Auditorium Theatre. It is a perfect marriage, and the commitment and enthusiasm of Auditorium Theatre Executive Director Brett Batterson to Ailey Week is contagious. One cannot help but to heed his call to spread the word.
Opening night was spectacular, of course, featuring the relatively new (2012) “Another Night”, choreographed by Kyle Abraham. Electric in its movement and colors, and classic with the accompaniment of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” performed by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. The masterful paean to the body “Petite Mort” followed, and Ailey Artistic Director Robert Battle’s intimate “Strange Humors” came next. But the star of the show, of course, is the triumphant “Revelations”—for which we saw a mix of beloved veterans (Linda Celeste Sims) as well as newcomers to the company.
I’m not a formal “Ailey Ambassador” but I feel like one because I never miss an opportunity through good, old word-of-mouth or, now, using social media, to spread the word. My only quibble with this year’s series is that I wish they were performing MORE Ailey-choreographed pieces. I’m incredibly disappointed that “Cry” is not in the lineup this year, and that the only Ailey-choreographed piece outside of “Revelations” is “Pas de Duke.” I certainly appreciate all the efforts to stay current while honoring the classics, but veteran Ailey fans and new ones alike would benefit from seeing that Alvin Ailey’s choreographic genius extends well beyond “Revelations.”
Nonetheless, I look forward to going back several more times before Ailey leaves next Sunday. Mom wouldn’t want it any other way.
Click HERE for tickets and information on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 2013 run at the Auditorium Theatre.