Feature: Judith Jamison 1

Friday 7 April 2006

You are bringing over quite a varied selection of your repertoire, from the company classic ‘Revelations’, through an early piece of your own work, ‘Divining’, to new works. What inspired this selection?
Revelations Because we are only here for one week I tried to be as eclectic as possible and pay attention to where we came from. Revelations’ is like, “Here! This is our classic piece! “ So it’s kind of reintroducing the public to us again. I believe when you come in to see the Ailey you have to really go on a journey with us that has bends and curves and hills. I think it’s beautiful to come in openly and receive what these gifted dancers have to do.

Alvin Ailey said that the rationale for establishing his own company “was to demonstrate aspects of African America while providing quality, entertaining theatre.” How important is this rationale in today’s political climate?
Judith Jamison in 1984 Somebody asked me the other day, “How many white people do you have in the company? How many black people?” That comes up because when Alvin started the company he made a statement about ‘in the beginning I wanted to have black dancers with black themes’. But like he said, “In the beginning”. So now here we are 43 years later and the company has never been all one thing. My associate artistic director is from Japan, Masazumi Chaya. He has celebrated his thirtieth year with the company, he danced with the company for fifteen years. People can’t quite get that together. I’ve got people from Korea in the company, from France, people come from all over the world to participate in this kind of joyous dancing.

The statement that I make about the Ailey is that it is about the African American experience and the modern dance tradition. I come from America, there’s a HUGE modern dance tradition and it’s not all coming from an African American experience. So I think it’s very important that the company be recognised as excellent, not as black. Otherwise he’d call it the Alvin Ailey Black Dance Company. That isn’t what he was. Alvin wanted to be, and was, recognised as an artist. Period. The most important thing was that he was a brilliant artist who understood theatricality. The roots of our company come from the expression that had to be made back then.

There are still ballets that I bring to the company, with which choreographers feel that maybe something still has to be said but the core of the company is not based on that . . today.
The core of the company is based on what he started that never got published, the eclecticism of the repertory. When the company came here in’64 they were doing Anna Sokolow’s work. She was like . . . before post modern was named post modern!
Alvin always had a great open idea of what dance could be about and his initial statement certainly worked. It still does to this day. Except it gets smothered sometimes, it gets skewed so that people come to the theatre and say “Oh, we are going to see the African American Experience.” That’s what I can’t stand. It becomes very parochial. So that’s why I say, when you come to the theatre open your head and your heart and your mind because we are there to transform you. I’ve lived a life in this skin, I’ve been round the world a million times and I’m a human being who has seen the world, so I’m giving you that perspective.
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Grace So you get ‘Grace’1999 which is Ronald K Brown. His work is to die for, young people go nuts over it because he’s combined West African dance and club. It is just . . well, if you hear someone hooting in the back and making noise, it’s me! The audiences really participate.
Our audiences always used to participate so much so that in Revelations people used to feel as if they were having church. Now it’s a little bit more subdued, a little more quiet.
With Grace, it’s not just a free for all, there’s a clarity in the movement, there’s no wildness about it. It’s held energy, it’s quite remarkable.
And then with Alonzo King’s Following the Subtle Current Upstream we’ve got this kinda skewed look at ballet, he’s contorted it in such a way. He’s been around, he’s done that European thing. So the dancers go from that grounded, funky thing . . . back up! You have to be up and down at the same time. In Divining you have to have feather feet, you have to move as fast as your feet will take you – because I didn’t realise I was choreographing that quickly! People had to come up to me and say, “Judy, this is hard” and I’d be like “yeah! One two three . .” and I’d be doing it like, small, you know.
Now, Ulysee’s Dove, oh my God. He is the kind of choreographer that throws it at you and then the ballet’s over and he goes “whuuuuuufp.” I mean, he sucks everything out of you. It is so intense, what he does.

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