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The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Returns to Ailey’s Home State to Celebrate the Company’s 65th Anniversary

The dance company will perform contemporary and classic pieces in Austin for two nights only

Are You in Your Feelings? Choreographer: Kyle Abraham Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (photo by Paul Kolnik)

The renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater first graced the stage at Bass Concert Hall in 1981 as its premiere performance. Now, the company returns to celebrate its 65th anniversary with programs that reflect Ailey’s past and present, including Ailey’s iconic “Revelations,” and continue to celebrate dance made by the people for the people.

Members of the Company in Alvin Ailey’s For ‘Bird’ – With Love. (photo by Dario Calmese)

Forty-three years ago, Bass Concert Hall opened its doors for the first time, and the brilliant performers of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater christened the stage. Currently on a national tour, audiences can take in more contemporary pieces, such as 2009’s “Dancing Spirit,” featuring music by Radiohead and War, as well as the pivotal Ailey classic, “Revelations” when they return to Bass Concert Hall on March 2nd and 3rd.

Ailey’s childhood experience in Texas

The company’s eponymous founder was born in Rogers, Texas, just over an hour from the state capitol. The years he spent growing up in the Lone Star State and the Baptist church — what Ailey called his “blood memories” — had a huge impact on his future art, including “Revelations,” which premiered in New York City in 1960. The Ailey-choreographed ballet centers the African American experience and Black joy, featuring a soundtrack of gospels, blues, and spirituals, and has resonated with people worldwide for more than half a century. 

More than 25 million people in 71 countries have experienced the Alvin Ailey company’s soul-moving performances since the company was formed in 1958, but Ailey legend Sylvia Waters has been there since the beginning. In fact, as a young dancer in New York City, she was an audience member for the first-ever “Revelations” performance at the YMCA on Lexington Avenue in 1960. 

“Revelations” Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (photo by Paul Kolnik)

“I had an absolute visceral reaction to this work,” Waters says. “It was familiar and yet larger than life. The audience reaction was thundering. You never know when you’re looking at a masterwork, that I’d still be seeing this and teaching it and doing it most of my dancing life.”

Waters joined the Alvin Ailey company in 1968, and years later she was hand-selected by Ailey as the Artistic Director of Ailey II (the second dance company celebrating its 50th anniversary this year), a position she held for 38 years. Waters had a longstanding personal relationship with Ailey and witnessed him create a diverse, innovative company whose performances resonate with so many around the world because “it’s about the human condition and what we all have in common, rather than what separates us,” she says. 

Are You in Your Feelings? Choreographer: Kyle Abraham Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (Photo by Paul Kolnik)

Early inspirations

Ailey’s early life in Texas was “a very nomadic life,” Waters says. “His mother moved from place to place depending on what crops were growing and what job she could find.” The Sunday churchgoers “were very elegant with their hats, and they were there to worship as well as to socialize and gossip. And that this was the center of the community.” The people Ailey saw there inspired the artistry of “Revelations,” from the Sunday best costumes to an upbeat “Wade in the Water” playing during a baptismal scene.

“Revelations” Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (photo by Paul Kolnik)

Each of these special anniversary performances at Bass Concert Hall features different lineups, though both end with a full performance of “Revelations.” Saturday’s program includes “Following the Subtle Current Upstream” by Alonzo King which “speaks to everything in nature and its source,” Waters says, as well as “Dancing Spirit,” with music by Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Radiohead, and War. Sunday’s program includes a collection of Ailey classics including “Reflections in D,” “Night Creature,” and “For ‘Bird’ – With Love.”

AAADT in Kyle Abraham’s Are You in Your Feelings? (Photo by Paul Kolnik)

The dance company’s mission lives on

Alvin Ailey died in 1989, but his company’s mission of making dance by the people and giving it back to the people lives on alongside his legend. Alvin Ailey was one of the first integrated dance companies, and it has continued to produce iconic performances from diverse choreographers and dancers that have an uncanny ability to connect people back to nature and their own humanity.

“In addition to exposing his audiences to the beauty, intelligence, and ability to entertain of Black people,” Waters says, “Ailey wanted the audience to see themselves on stage.”

See Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater March 2 at 7:30 p.m. and March 3 at 2 p.m. Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Dr. From $10.