Highlighting Black History in NYC: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Black History Month
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

In honor of Black History Month, each week, PIX11 is featuring a local NYC landmark that honors the stories of African-Americans whose contributions to the five boroughs date back hundreds of years.

When it comes to theater, Alvin Ailey was one of the most influential African American choreographers of modern dance.

In 1958, he founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to carry out his vision of a company dedicated to enriching the American modern dance heritage while preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience.

Alvin Ailey Dance
Alvin Ailey Dance

Q: When did this landmark come to be? What do you think it means to New Yorkers?

Christopher Zunner, Director of Public Relations at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater:
The Joan Weill Center for Dance — Ailey’s permanent home — officially opened in 2005 and is the largest building dedicated to dance in New York City, the dance capital of the world.

Founder Alvin Ailey’s long-held dream of a permanent home for the organization and center of dance for the world was realized under the leadership of his successor, Judith Jamison, in 2005 when she was Artistic Director.

For New Yorkers, Ailey’s home is a monument to how the universal language of dance can bring people together in celebration of the human spirit.

It is also a reflection of Alvin Ailey’s generosity. It attracts so many dancers, students and arts lovers from around the world that sometimes it feels like the United Nations of Dance.

Alvin Ailey Dance
Performers with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater rehearse “Divining” by choreographer Judith Jamison, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in New York. The piece is performed from Dec. 5 to Jan. 4 at New York City Center. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Q: What’s one thing about this landmark that most people do not know?

Christopher Zunner: Most people don’t know that the facility is on the site of the former WNET-TV studios, where the company’s first television appearance occurred in the early 1960s, featuring Alvin Ailey performing in his signature masterpiece Revelations.

Acclaimed as a must-see for all, the soul-stirring Revelations can be enjoyed all month online on demand through a filmed 2015 performance of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Lincoln Center. You can watch that performance here.

Alvin Ailey Dance
Alvin Ailey Dance

Q: How does this landmark tie back into Black History Month?

Christopher Zunner: The building creates a home for all the performances, educational, and training programs that continue Ailey’s mission to inspire, educate and unite people of all backgrounds in a universal celebration of the human spirit using African American heritage and the American modern dance tradition.

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