Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continues to carry the legacy of its Texas founder

Ailey’s Texas roots were central to his work. The company has several stops in the Lone Star State in 2024.

By Laura Rice & Jesus VidalesFebruary 29, 2024 12:38 pm,

Choreographer and dancer Alvin Ailey revolutionized dance by celebrating Black American stories through movement. Ailey had his start in Rogers, Texas, and would eventually found the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York before passing away.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is now on tour with stops in San Antonio, Houston, and Austin.

Company Associate Artistic Director and acclaimed choreographer Matthew Rushing joined the Standard to discuss the legacy of Ailey and the significance of their dancing. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: You’ve danced and done choreography for the company for 30 years now. Your time did not overlap with Ailey himself – he died in 1989. How much is his original vision still a part of the company?

Matthew Rushing: A huge part of his original vision gives us inspiration, actually, to move forward. So even as we try to think about what Ailey looks like in the future, we draw from Mr. Ailey’s original vision, which is summed up in his mantra that dance came from the people, and it should be delivered back to the people.

What does that look like for people who haven’t seen the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater? It isn’t tutus and pointy-toed shoes, right?

No, not at all, actually. One of the things that Mr. Ailey clearly expressed is that he wanted a dance company in which his family from Texas could come to the theater and not only enjoy what they see, but be able to relate to the stories that are being told – the music, the subject matter, and even the people themselves.

You’re right – it’s not just about fairy and tutus. It’s about real people and real stories.

You know, because I do think some people are intimidated by dance. What would you say to someone who isn’t sure going to see a ballet is for them?

Well, when it comes to seeing the Ailey company, that idea of not being able to relate is not a reality. The ballets that we dance, the choreographers that we invite – even down to the arts and education and the outreach that we do as we come into your city – it’s not about just coming in, performing and leaving. But even if you did just come to the theater, you would be able to see yourself on stage.

As I was young, growing up in Los Angeles, I saw a depiction of a baptism in Mr. Ailey’s signature work, “Revelations.” I had recently been baptized, and to be able to come to a theater and see dancers actually articulate my personal experience, that was a total connection and way of engaging and seeing the Ailey company.

Well, I understand that the company is actually performing “Revelations” in Austin. Can you describe why it became the company’s most famous ballet and why it’s so impactful?

“Revelations” is choreographed to traditional Negro spirituals, but within these spirituals are themes of humanity that everyone can relate to – the idea of sorrow and lament, purification, repentance, trying to become better. And then this idea of hope.

No matter what background you come from, when you come and see “Revelations,” you see yourself and you feel a sense of spirit. It’s definitely acknowledging the pain and the sorrow that we’ve been through, but it’s also a passionate look into the future with hope. And that’s one of the things that I feel that has gotten Black people through so many of the things that we have been through, and that being shared and articulated and manifest through dance is one of the most, for me, liberating experiences there are.

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