‘Ailey’ Shows The Revolutionary Choreographer’s Texas Roots Were Central To His Work

Director Jamila Wignot says while Alvin Ailey eventually left Texas, “Texas never left him”; it was the source material for many of his masterworks.

By Laura Rice & Caroline CovingtonJuly 27, 2021 12:35 pm, ,

Director Jamila Wignot.

Choreographer Alvin Ailey founded one of the most successful modern dance companies in the world. Ailey was also a Texan. Born in Rogers, in 1931, Ailey moved to California and, eventually, to New York City where he started the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The dance company featured Black dancers and celebrated Black American stories through movement.

Jamila Wignot is the director of a new documentary, simply titled, “Ailey.” Wignot says Ailey “revolutionized modern dance,” but he also used the art form as a kind of protest against the oppressive forces in society that shape Black life.

“While he may have left Texas, Texas never left him. It is the source of his notion of ‘blood memories,’ which is this idea of a kind of ancestral memory and history that’s, that is rooted in his being and his body. And it really was the source of inspiration for so many of his masterworks.”

Courtesy of NEON. Photo by Jack Mitchell

A still from "Ailey," by Jamila Wignot.

“Alvin entertained my dreams that a Black boy could actually dance,” said one former company member, in the film.


“He was very clear that while, you know, these oppressive forces did give shape to Black life, they were not what defined Black life. … To be an African American is not to be the product, is not your identity, is not these external forces that are acting upon you, that there is a rich tradition, there is culture, there is family, there is love there. There is wealth there.”

Courtesy of NEON. Photo by Jack Mitchell

A still from "Ailey," by Jamila Wignot.

“It’s extraordinary when you think about his capacity, you know, to sort of retain that and then to build a body of work that’s such a clear articulation of that – that he said, ‘I’m going to center these experiences and I’m going to center the really ordinary experiences that were beautiful and profound.”

“I think that’s just an important thing to know and to consider. The space where he chose to speak was in his work. … And I think there’s a way to sort of take for granted, you know, how and what that took and the kind of vision behind that. And so I wanted to give a sense of what that cost him.”

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