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Revelations from a lifetime of dance | Judith Jamison and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Revelations from a lifetime of dance | Judith Jamison and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater


(Music: “Wade in the Water”
by Ella Jenkins) Wade in the water Wade in the water, children Wade in the water God’s a-gonna trouble the water Oh, why don’t you wade in the water Wade in the water, children Wade in the water God’s a-gonna trouble the water See that man all dressed in white God’s a-gonna trouble the water He looks like a man of the Israelite God’s a-gonna trouble the water Wade in the water Wade in the water, children Wade in the water God’s a-gonna trouble the water See that man all dressed in red God’s a-gonna trouble the water It looks like the man that Moses led God’s a-gonna trouble the water Wade in the water Wade in the water, children Wade in the water God’s a-gonna trouble the water Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel Daniel, Daniel Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel Then why not every man? Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel Daniel, Daniel Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel Why not every man? Man went down to the river Man went down to the river Man went down to the river Went down there for to pray Man went down to the river Man went down to the river Man went down to the river To wash his sins away He washed all day, he washed all night He washed till his hands were sore He washed all day, he washed all night Till he couldn’t wash a-no more Man went down to the river Man went down to the river Man went down to the river (Music fades) (Applause) (Juliet Blake) And now,
let’s give a warm welcome to the artistic director emerita
of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Judith Jamison. (Applause) Judith Jamison: Thanks. How are y’all? (Audience cheers) JJ: Yeah, you know
you’ve just been to church? (Laughter) You just saw a baptism, yes? This is from this wonderful piece
Mr. Ailey created in 1960, called “Revelations.” Mr. Ailey was 29 years old
when he choreographed this masterpiece. It’s been danced all over the world
and understood universally, because he understood
the humanity in us all. “Revelations” is a reflection
of a journey we all take in life, and, hopefully, triumphantly. That was the magic of Alvin Ailey. He was able to see you, in the audience, see me, as the dancer, and see the connection between us, and choreographed works
that connected us all. So you felt he was telling your story, while I felt I was dancing mine. I started dancing when I was six years old in Philadelphia. I was skinny … (Laughter) Dark chocolate, and a kid with legs up to my armpits. And the very first performance I had,
at the Judimar School of Dance, was in a red checkered shirt, dungarees, pink ballet shoes, and we were dancing to “I’m an Old Cowhand
from the Rio Grande.” I loved every minute of it. I mean, I literally did love
every minute of it, especially when I heard the applause, and I knew right there,
when I was six, I said, “That’s for me.” (Laughter) At six, you’re not thinking that’s going to be
a career of your lifetime, but that was perfect for that moment. I danced my way through school,
and through college, and it still didn’t dawn on me
that that’s what I actually wanted to do. I went to an audition, which I was dreadful in — it’s the only audition
I’ve had in my life — and when I was let go
from that audition — because I thought when they were saying,
“Thank you very much,” that meant for me to stay. (Laughter) I ran up the steps, and there was a man sitting on the steps. And I barely noticed him. He was an observer. Three days later, that man called me and asked me, would I like to join
the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. That’s how it happened, folks, that’s it. There’s no drama or trauma. (Applause) So I spent 15 years dancing
with the company, and then I directed it
for something like 21 years. If you were black
and African American and a dancer, any time between the ’40s and the ’70s, you had much to say, because your complete voice
was not being heard. And you were not being represented
as you truly were. Alvin Ailey had the courage, right in the middle
of the Civil Rights Movement, to present the truth about who we were — that our creativity, our beauty, our intelligence, our talents were an intrinsic part of the panoply
of American culture. Our mantra has always been
to educate, to entertain, and to lift our audiences. Mr. Ailey believed that dance
came from the people and needed to be delivered
back to the people. We didn’t dance in a vacuum. It was our mission to serve people. We call it outreach now, but it’s always been a part
of who we were and still are, 60 years later, to this day. Being inclusive of our audiences — it’s always been an important
part of the company. We ask ourselves, who are we dancing for? Why are we dancing, if not to show people
what it is to be human and to connect with the audiences
that we dance for. We’ve always felt responsible
to make sure the community understood that what we do
is a part of their heritage. We just don’t do this, also, in America, we do it all over the world. We tour more than any other
dance company in the world. After Nelson Mandela
was released from prison, I thought, well, this is the time
to go to South Africa. And that was some outreach. We went to Johannesburg, Soweto, and some other townships
that were really in dire straits. And it dawned on me,
as we were there, I’m going like, “Here we are in the seat of Mother Africa, and we’re trying to teach
these people how to dance?” (Laughter) But it was our African Americanness
that they were interested in, and the culture that we had developed
over the last 400 years. We toured all over the world many times, and whether we’re in Europe
or South America or Asia or somewhere else, audiences are thrilled and excited. You sounded thrilled and excited. Sometimes with tears in their eyes, because this nonverbal
communication really works. And it’s about embracing everyone. Alvin didn’t need to explain to us what was going on at the time
in the ’60s and the ’70s; it was obvious why were doing his work. He knew what the truth
of the time was about, and he was unafraid
to reveal it through dance. He tapped into every emotion
he had and we had, and from angerness to happiness, to grief and everything in between, he knew us. He took our history
and turned it into powerful dance. He and I overlapped generationally. We didn’t have to talk
about things so much, because we understood implicitly
our shared responsibilities. So when he asked me
to take over the company before he passed in 1989, I felt prepared to carry it forward. Alvin and I were like parts
of the same tree. He, the roots and the trunk, and we were the branches. I was his muse. We were all his muses. The ballet “Cry,” which some of you might have seen — you’re going to see an excerpt of it — it was made on me, and Alvin dedicated it to all black women, especially our mothers. When Alvin and I went in the studio, of course he wasn’t thinking, “Here I am, creating an iconic work.” Do you know any artist that does that? You don’t go into the studio to create anything but what’s coming truthfully
from your heart and your spirit. And you trust that you have a dancer
you can share that with. Rehearsal space is a sacred space, not to be intruded upon, because it’s about talking
to each other through spirit. You better have some
technique on top of that so you can do the dance. (Laughter) He brought his Alvin to “Cry”
and I brought my Judy to it. I just did the steps. And this was a birthday
present for his mother, because he couldn’t afford
to get her a tactile gift. When I performed it the first time, it was physically
and emotionally draining. I hadn’t yet run through the whole piece
from beginning to end. The ballet is 16 minutes long. It’s about a proud woman
who has been to hell and back, from her journey across the Atlantic. She’s exhausted, she’s a queen, and in this section,
you’re going to see she is triumphant. She made it, and she is, in that last
step that she does, beating away anything negative with her tremendous strength. And in the last step,
she digs into the earth and she reaches into the sky … because she’s clearing space
for the next journey. I performed it in 1971, and we are still clearing space. Now let me leave you
with one last thought. Here we are, in the 21st century, still fighting for civil rights. Not a day goes by that we are not made aware
of the struggle that continues. I believe that dance
can elevate our human experience beyond words. And when you’re sitting in the dark, in the theater, having a personal experience, you don’t feel blocked or misunderstood. You feel open, alive, and, we hope, inspired. Thank you. (Applause) (Music: “Right on. Be free.”
by East Harlem) I wanna go where the north wind blows I wanna know what the falcon knows I wanna go where the wild goose goes High flyin’ bird, high flyin’ bird, fly on I want the clouds over my head I don’t want no store bought bed I’m gonna live until I’m dead Mother, mother, mother
Save your child Right on, be free Right on, be free Right on, be free I don’t want no store bought bed Right on I want the clouds over my head Be free Ain’t no time to be afraid Mother, mother, mother
Save your child (Music) I don’t want no store bought bed Right on I want the clouds over my head Be free Ain’t no time to be afraid Mother save your child I wanna see a rainbow in the sky I wanna watch the clouds go by It might make my load a little light Lord, Lord, Lord
Where will I be tomorrow night? Right on Be free Right on, be free Right on, be free Right on, be free Right on, be free Right on, be free Right on, be free (Music fades) (Applause) (Cheers) (Applause) (Cheers) (Applause)

Comments (34)

  1. Skips to random point, instantly mentions black and gay. It’s a no from me

  2. Fourth, ecarté, arms in third.

  3. Never heard of him…hmmmm

  4. My heart is happy! Two of my favorites

  5. Hey everyone I'm a small youtuber and I'd really appreciate the support! Im a high school with autism trying to build my communication skills please help thanks❤❤❤❤

  6. I love Alvin Ailey. I cried when I seen it. Reminded of all my strong and reciliant ancestors who built this country. Absolutely amazing

  7. More of TED's forced agenda. Time to go….💩

  8. What a beautiful display! Bravo on the dancers 👍🏾❤🙋🏾‍♀️

  9. Revelations is always new each time you see it performed. 💜

  10. Im so early no one has liked anyone’s comment. And there’s only 24

  11. Dance can be a wonderful healthy spiritual experience or not. Thank you for sharing. I dance at home to all types of music from all over the world if I like it.

  12. Dance is how I share my soul with the world. No other form of communication quite like it 👌🏻💕

  13. @TED thank you for your service. It is invaluable.

  14. Immediately I was into this

  15. شكرا لكم ترجموا لنا الفيديو إلى اللغة العربية

  16. fantastic performances!

  17. Yep. That’s all black people are able to do is dance. They can’t build a civilization. But they CAN dance! Got it! Awesome!

  18. I wish I know how to dance…

  19. Don't live in the past, just learn from it.

  20. … seeing Judith Jamison decades ago with the Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe in the Houston Jones Hall was one of the most inspiring moments for me as a dancer myself… another favorite was Sea Shadow by Robert Joffrey Ballet Company …

  21. Awesome! Inspiring 👏🏽

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