REVELATIONS by Alvin Ailey


The Autobiography of Alvin Ailey
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 A patchwork oral memoir by the great African-American dancer/choreographer. Born in 1931 in rural Texas, Ailey never knew his father. His mother roamed from town to town in search of employment, relocating to Los Angeles when her son was 12. Thanks to his prowess as a gymnast and a chance meeting with high school classmate Carmen de Lavallade, Ailey began studying dance at the studio of Lester Horton, an eclectic modern choreographer who led one of the period's few multiethnic dance companies. After Horton's death in the early '50s, Ailey was invited to perform on Broadway with de Lavallade in House of Flowers; he gave his first solo concert in the late '50s. Although his own company wasn't officially founded until 1964, Ailey had been touring for years with a group of dancers performing two of his earliest, and still best-known, dances: Blues Suite (1958) and the spiritual-based Revelations (1960). The company continued to grow in size and stature through the '60s and '70s, and Ailey adopted the fast-paced lifestyle of a star. Dependency on cocaine led to a much-publicized breakdown in 1980, followed by a short stay in a mental institution. Never quite returning to full health or to his original creative form, he died in 1989 of a blood disease. Cobbled together from 15 hours of interviews with Ailey conducted just before his death by journalist Bailey (who by his own admission has no particular knowledge of dance), this book gives little insight into Ailey's creative process. It is further marred by repetitions, mistakes in chronology, and Ailey's own platitudies. On rare occasion, however, the choreographer reveals an important element of his artistic philosophy: ``I look for dancers who have an oozy quality in their movement...I like personalities, not cookie cutter dancers.'' The definitive biography of this important figure remains to be written. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-55972-255-X
Page count: 275pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994