Last Updated 20 Apr 2022

Alvin Ailey History Leading Up to ‘Cry’

Category Alvin Ailey, Dance
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Alvin Ailey – ‘Cry’ Give a chronological account of Ailey’s background, training and influences up to the time he made ‘Cry’. Discuss how this may have informed the narrative of the dance in the work ‘Cry’ Alvin Ailey used his culture and countless childhood memories to base his choreography. His background, training and influences have informed and influenced the narrative of his work ‘Cry. The concept of cry was devised by Alvin Ailey. ‘Cry’ took its inspiration and stimulus from the suffering and hardship faced by African American Women.

It portrays a woman dealing with slavery, adversity and segregation, who overcomes extraordinary situations and misfortunes, and rises up to triumph. Alvin Ailey Jr. was born on the 5th of January, 1931 to Lula Elizabeth Ailey, in Rogers, Texas. His experiences of life being brought up in the rural South would later inspire some of his most notable works. Ailey was an only child, and his father left the family when Ailey was the mere age of 1. Ailey soon later moved to Navasota, Texas with his mother. “There was the white school up on the hill, and the Black Baptist Church” said Ailey in a Times interview.

Ailey grew up in this world feeling like an outsider. In 1942 he moved to Los Angeles, where he was introduced to dance by performances by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. It was at this time that Ailey became interested in athletics and along with this joined his high schools gymnastic and football teams. He also began taking tap lessons as he had a strong admiration for Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Ailey’s passion for dance further grew when he visited a modern dance school which was run by Lester Horton at the time.

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This dance school was the first company to accept dancers of all races. He attended Lester Horton’s dance school for one year before leaving. As Ailey had just recently graduated from high school in 1948 he went onto to attend the University of California where he studied languages. However, in 1949, Horton offered Ailey a scholarship, which he accepted, and it became effective immediately. Ailey continued on at the Company for again, one year, before this time leaving to attend San Francisco State College. With Ailey travelling a fair amount it gave him little connection and a lack of belonging which later in life would ontribute to the love and dedication he had towards his mother as she was the only real connection he had. Alongside this Ailey grew up with a strong sense of his African American Culture. While Ailey was living in San Francisco he began to dance in various night-clubs as a source of money. Very soon later, once again, Ailey returned to Los Angeles in order to complete his dance training with Lester Horton. It was in 1953 that Ailey ventured to New York alongside Horton and the company to perform. During this trip to New York Lester Horton had a sudden death, leaving Ailey as Director of the Company.

From here Ailey followed Horton’s technique and style himself as it thoroughly influenced on his dance genre, and he, himself produced 2 works. Unfortunately, for Ailey these pieces received very little praise and poor reviews which resulted in the troupe parting ways. Regardless of this minor setback, Ailey’s career truly began to blossom and he successfully moved on in the dance industry. Ailey was cast for numerous productions both on and off Broadway! Among these were the likes off: Sing, Man, Sing; Jamaica; Carefree tree; and Call me by my right name.

In 1958 Ailey and another choreographer set out to recruit dancers which would perform several concerts throughout New York City. These new and modern works received successful reviews and high amounts of praise, which led Ailey to schedule concert after concert for the works to be viewed. Ailey’s first major work “Blues Suite” inspired by blues music was performed at these recitals. It was during this time, that his now most grasping piece “Revelations” was created and brought to life on the stage. “Revelations” was accompanied by the clutching music of Duke Ellington.

It was this work that introduced the African American Religious Life to the United States, and pulled the audience in leaving them wanting more. It was from here on out that Alvin Ailey realized the impact he had on audiences through the African American context, and he further used this to his advantages to express the hardships that people of this culture faced through dance and art. In 1958 Alvin Ailey established his own company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, to carry out his vision of a company devoted to inspiring the American modern dance heritage and preserving the style and traditions of the African-American culture.

A short one year after its creation the company became the resident dance theatre at the Clarke Centre for Performing Arts in New York City. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre was lucky enough to house the leading African American Soloist being Judith Jamison. Not only was Judith Jamison a part of the company, Ailey also employed Asian and white dancers, making his company tremendously culturally diverse. It during the mid-1960’s when Ailey officially gave up dance, due to personal issues.

Although quite recently after this, Ailey alongside his company relocated to Brooklyn, New York. From here on the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre went on to be one of the most renowned dance troupes, touring internationally. It was on May 4th, 1971 at the New York City Centre, where Ailey’s signature work ‘Cry’ was first performed. Ailey dedicated this piece to "all black women everywhere--especially our mothers. ” Alvin Ailey choreographed his memorable solo ‘Cry’ as a birthday present for his honorable mother, and choreographed the dance on his principal dancer, Judith Jamison.

Jamison demonstrated Ailey’s mother’s struggles as well as all other African American woman’s struggles at the time of slavery as they fought for freedom. Mrs. Cooper (Alvin Ailey's mother) and Ms. Jamison are considered as the model of an Ailey woman. The role in ‘Cry’ has been passed on to all the Principal Dancers in the company being taught from the original soloist, Judith Jamison. In her autobiography, Jamison wrote "Exactly where the woman is going through the ballet's three sections was never explained to me by Alvin.

In my interpretation, she represented those women before her who came from the hardships of slavery, through the pain of losing loved ones, through overcoming extraordinary depressions and tribulations. Coming out of a world of pain and trouble, she has found her way-and triumphed. " The piece ‘Cry’ very much so illustrates these altered generations of African American women. The work begins with the unraveling of a long white cloth that is personified during the work and takes on many figures; from a cleaning cloth which depicts the slavery the women faced to a physical barrier on the floor preventing escape.

Ailey said “I am trying to express something that I feel about people, life, the human spirit, the beauty of things. ” This three female solo, takes the audience on a journey of bitter sadness, ruthless hardship and blissful joy. It is through these factors that we are able to see the narrative of the work cry Ultimately, Ailey strongly used themes and concepts that he experienced from his past training, influences and background knowledge, to create and choreograph his most renowned work ‘Cry’

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