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Alvin Ailey: A Life In Dance

Jennifer Dunning

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Da Capo Press Inc
22 March 1998
Contemporary dance; Biography: arts & entertainment
Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) was a choreographic giant in the modern dance world and a champion of African-American talent and culture. His interracial Alvin Ailey American Dance theatre provided opportunities to black dancers and choreographers when no one else would. His acclaimed Revelations remains one of the most performed modern dance pieces in the twentieth century. But he led a tortured life, filled with insecurity and self-loathing. Raised in poverty in rural Texas by his single mother, he managed to find success early in his career, but by the 1970s his creativity had waned. He turned to drugs, alcohol, and gay bars and suffered a nervous breakdown in 1980. He was secretive about his private life, including his homosexuality, and, unbeknownst to most at the time, died from AIDS-related complications at age 58.

Now, for the first time, the complete story of Ailey's life and work is revealed in this biography. Based on his personal journals and hundreds of interviews with those who knew him, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Judith Jamison, Lena Horne, Katherine Dunham, Sidney Poitier, and Dustin Hoffman, Alvin Ailey is a moving story of a man who wove his life and culture into his dance.
By:   Jennifer Dunning
Imprint:   Da Capo Press Inc
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 226mm,  Width: 156mm,  Spine: 29mm
Weight:   664g
ISBN:   9780306808258
ISBN 10:   0306808250
Pages:   496
Publication Date:   22 March 1998
Audience:   General/trade ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

A dance critic and reporter for theNew York Times, Jennifer Dunning has covered the dance world since the 1970s. She lives in New York City.

Reviews for Alvin Ailey: A Life In Dance

A detailed and well-rounded biography of Ailey (1931-89), the celebrated African-American dancer and choreographer. New York Times dance critic Dunning ( But First a School, 1985) here considers a subject whose volatility and well-known penchant for privacy to some extent obstruct her desire to explain him. Born in a rural cabin near Rogers, Tex., Ailey was abandoned by his father when he was three months old. As a boy, he followed his mother from job to job until they ended up in Los Angeles in 1942. Alley the teenager was magnetized by poetry, music, theater, movies, and dance - especially by the wrought Caribbean extravaganzas of Katherine Dunham. Alley studied dance locally with Lester Horton, eventually joined and choreographed for his company, then left for the East to appear in the show House of Flowers. His tumultuously productive professional life ultimately saw the triumph of his vision of African-American identity in such dances as Cry and Revelations and the achievement of interracial artistic harmony in his integrated company, the Alvin Alley American Dance Theater. Though the book is held back at times by the spirit of boosterism (e.g., The kid from Texas had climbed to another summit ), usually Dunning takes care not to romanticize the endless strains and difficulties involved with sustaining choreographic creation and long-term institutional stability. Nor does she neglect the paradoxes of Alley, a manic-depressive and often self-destructive man whose drug habit and promiscuous erotic love for men raised eyebrows and occasionally led to skirmishes with police. The best part of the book may be its last quarter, when Dunning is compelled to confront the dancer's secrecies head-on, and when she movingly narrates his decline and death from AIDS. One is left with the impression that perhaps no one understood Alley, not even Ailey himself. But there is plenty of reason to wish we did, and Dunning provides a very useful point of entry. (Kirkus Reviews)


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