Anyone who has studied theater and dance will know the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and its founder. Not only did Ailey form a dance movement, but his company also became a pioneering force for Black artists as they traveled the world, introducing political themes and helping integrate the world of dance.
Street dancer-turned-choreographer Rennie Harris had heard the name but didn’t become interested in the Ailey movement until late in the 2000s. “I was a hardcore dancer. At that point, I wasn’t feeling modern dance,” Harris explains.
Now the two are linked through the doc “Ailey,” which will be released nationwide Aug. 6. The film highlights the legendary choreographer’s life and visionary work, with Harris interpreting his dances.
It was when Harris finally saw the trailblazing “Revelations,” the 1960s work that put Ailey on the map, that he became inspired. Later, he was hired by the Alvin Ailey company to re-create the choreographer’s works. In the doc, we see Harris workshopping “Lazarus,” a production about racial injustice in Jim Crow-era Texas. Director Jamila Wignot mixes archival Ailey footage and interviews as Harris puts his production together in the studio.
By watching the archival clips alongside Harris’ re-creation, “Alvin Ailey shifts from God of African American culture and dance to having this human element,” Harris says.
The documentary also brings to light the revolutionary idea at the time of “Black bodies doing ballet,” Harris says. “Alvin had a lot to say politically with dance. They wanted him to get out and protest, but I don’t think people got that the company itself — the Alvin Ailey dance company — was a protest.”