It is criminal that there has yet to be a real Big Movie about the life and times of American choreographer and genius Alvin Ailey. Thankfully, this will be remedied soon enough!
Deadline reports that Fox Searchlight has closed a deal to develop Ailey’s life story and work into a movie, with full support from the Ailey organization, which owns the rights to all of his choreography. The producers will also be working with Artistic Director Robert Battle and Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison on the film, and have secured the rights to the 1998 biography, Jennifer Dunning’s Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance—a doorstopper of a book that serves as a lovely companion to Ailey’s autobiography, Revelations.
As a choreographer, Ailey’s best-known works are stirring meditations on the black experience in America and of the human body. “Revelations” is a show-stopper, and, in Ailey’s own words, is a tribute to his “blood memories” of his childhood in the Baptist church.
Please also consider “Cry,” a three-part solo ballet originally choreographed as a present for his mother’s birthday in 1971, and danced originally by the electric Judith Jamison, who said of the work:
“...it was a birthday present for Alvin’s mother. You see, she was coming from Texas to see her son’s company and Alvin knew she’d be celebrating a birthday in New York. In those days, none of us could shop at Tiffany or Bloomingdales, so Alvin decided the nicest present he could give his mother was a ballet. We went into the studio...and began moving to the music...and in a few days...Alvin made an enduring work of art....Cheering audiences still have Alvin’s birthday present to his mother.”
Here’s Donna Wood, dancing this piece in 1982.
Robert Battle, current artistic director of the Ailey company, is making the kind of work that references Ailey’s original vision—inspired by Katherine Dunham and Lester Horton, but not mired in the past.
It’s not yet clear how the life and work of Ailey will be brought to life on screen, but the fact that Battle and Jamison are on board and that the original choreography is available for use gives me hope that, in the hands of the right director, they will do justice to Ailey’s legacy.