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Celebrity Series gears up to celebrate 50 years of Alvin Ailey in Boston

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO

In 2018, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its first performance in Boston, at the John Hancock Hall as part of the Celebrity Series of Boston. The Celebrity Series has an extensive celebration program planned for the 2017-18 season, beginning with a symposium in the same hall, highlighting the history of Ailey in Boston along with the history of Roxbury community activist and arts educator Elma Lewis.

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Celebrity Series president Gary Dunning says, “Alvin Ailey is the one artist and company we’ve shown more than anyone else in our 70-year period. We wanted to take the celebration beyond the stage.”

The December symposium will be free and open to all, as will all of the celebratory programming except for the ticketed Ailey performance in March. Panelists include Judith Jamison, Alvin Ailey veteran, muse and former artistic director; Barry Gaither, Director and Curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists and a contemporary of Elma Lewis; and Shaumba-Yandje Dibinga, founding artistic & executive director of the Roxbury-based OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center. Callie Crossley, host of WGBH’s “Under the Radar with Callie Crossley,” will moderate.

Elma Lewis and Alvin Ailey ran on parallel tracks. She was a founder of the National Center for Afro-American Artists and the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, both in Roxbury. Just as Alvin Ailey was bringing African dance to the national and then global stage, Lewis was reinforcing the importance of African and African American art here in Boston. In fact, Lewis founded the NCAAA the same year Alvin Ailey premiered in Boston. Today it remains the largest independent black cultural institution in New England.

Dunning’s love of Ailey’s work began when he saw his first Ailey production in a small theater at Princeton University when he was 19 years old. “The company came from a very specific source, the Afro-Caribbean tradition, but has mass appeal,” says Dunning. “The joy of live performance, the collective shared experience, offers a powerful anecdote to isolating world trends.”

In addition to the December discussion, Ailey company members will do residencies at Boston-area schools in January, conducting master classes and workshops. “We like to introduce students to the joy of expressing narrative through dance,” says Dunning.

For the general public, former Ailey company member Nasha Thomas will be teaching the “Revelations” choreography in two February workshops. People of all dance experience levels are welcome. The annual ticketed Alvin Ailey performance will run March 22–25, 2018.

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