‘Ailey’ Review: A Poetic Look at the Man Behind the Dances
Too often, Alvin Ailey’s idea boils down to one dance: “Revelations”. His 1960 exploration of the black experience remains a masterpiece, but it also eclipses the person who made it. How can an artist grow up after such early success? Who was Alvin Ailey the man?
In “Ailey,” director Jamila Wignot overlays images, videos and, most importantly, voiceovers of Ailey to create a portrait as poetic and nuanced as the choreography itself. Black-and-white images of crowds entering church, children playing, dancing parties, and the dusty landscape of Texas (his birthplace) create an atmosphere. Like Ailey’s dances, the documentary lets you swim in the sensation.
Ailey’s story is told alongside the creation of “Lazarus,” a new dance by contemporary choreographer Rennie Harris, whose homage to Ailey offers an intriguing juxtaposition of past and present. In his quest to reveal the man behind the legacy, Harris tackles the theme of the resurrection. Ailey passed away in 1989, but her spirit lives on in her dancers.
His beginnings were not easy, however. Born in 1931, Ailey never knew her father and remembers “being stuck on my mother’s hip. Sloshing across the field. Branches cutting against the body of a child. Go from one place to another. Looking for a place to be. My mother went to work in the fields. I used to pick cotton.
He was only 4 years old. Ailey explained how her dances were full of “dark and deep things, beautiful things in me that I had always tried to bring out.”
All the while, Ailey, who was gay, remained intensely private. Here, we capture his anguish, especially after the sudden death of his friend, the choreographer and dancer Joyce Trisler. In his honor, he choreographed “Memoria” (1979), a dance of solitude and celebration. “I couldn’t cry until I saw this room,” he says.
Ailey’s mental health was fragile towards the end of her life; Wignot shows crowds converging on the sidewalks, but instead of making them walk normally, she reverses their steps. He suffered from AIDS. Before his death, he passed his business on to Judith Jamison, who sums up his magnetic and enduring presence: “Alvin inspired and never expired.
Again, it is this idea of resurrection. “We are out of breath,” she continues. “So this is what we float on, this is what we live on.”
Classified PG-13. Duration: 1 hour and 22 minutes. In theaters.
#Ailey #Review #Poetic #Man #Dances