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Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Is Trying To Make Modern Dance “Pop” Again (HBO)

(Source: YouTube.com)

The name Alvin Ailey is synonymous with modern dance. In 1958, when Ailey founded his company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, it was an instant sensation internationally – thanks in large part to his masterpiece, Revelations, which showcased the agony and triumph of the African-American experience to a global audience. This came at time when, at home, the troupe were treated as second-class citizens many places they went.

“You have to think even when this company started touring in the States there were some hotels that perhaps they were the first black folks to come into those doors – the front door certainly,” said Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Artistic Director, Robert Battle.

Battle said that Ailey started a dance company, because he didn’t see the opportunities for African-Americans in the concert dance, nor their stories being told. Ailey knew what it meant to be left out and the importance of accessibility.

“You have the right to see this,” said Battle. “You are connected to this.”

However, young people today aren’t feeling as connected to the work. Modern dance—even Ailey—is waning in popularity. As the company turns 60, it’s launching a two-act ballet called Lazarus that it hopes will break through to a new generation of fans.

Choreographed by Rennie Harris, Lazarus is peppered with references to some of the most popular dances of the last decade, including the Nae Nae, Dougie, Milly Rock and, of course, the Dab.

“You want to introduce the new generation to, not only this new work, but you want the history of this company, right,” said Harris. “And to help carry on the legacy. That’s the whole point about Lazarus is like this resurrection, this keep happening, you know what I mean?”

Khalia Campbell is one of the dancers featured in Lazarus. She said that the AAADT gave her hope as a dancer, because she saw bodies on the stage that looked like hers. She believed that the choreography in Harris’ work will have the same effect on newer faces in attendance.

“People that are non-dancers will be able to relate to this because they don’t know about a lateral T or like a tendu, so when they see the Nae Nae — I feel accomplished a little bit because what I’m doing onstage will kind of get across to the audience.”

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