The Ailey Extension Presents a Very Special Panel Discussion: Celebrating the Life of Alvin Ailey January 5, 2016 – Alvin Ailey’s 85th Birthday Featuring Judith Jamison, Sylvia Waters, and Donna Wood, Moderated by Renee Robinson

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The Ailey Extension Presents a Very Special Panel Discussion:

Celebrating the Life of Alvin Ailey

January 5, 2016 – Alvin Ailey’s 85th Birthday

Featuring Judith Jamison, Sylvia Waters, and Donna Wood. Moderated by Renee Robinson.

Left to right: Donna Wood in Alvin Ailey’s Memoria. Photo by Lois Green. Sylvia Waters in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo courtesy of Ailey Archives. Alvin Ailey. Photo by Normand Maxon. Judith Jamison. Photo by Jack Mitchell. Renee Robinson in Alvin Ailey’s Blues Suite. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

(New York) December 23, 2015 – Alvin Ailey forever changed the perception of American dance when he founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958. On Tuesday, January 5 at 6:30pm, join the Ailey Extension in celebrating what would have been his 85th birthday at the panel discussion Celebrating the Life of Alvin Ailey. Former Ailey dancers and muses Judith Jamison (Artistic Director Emerita), Sylvia Waters (Ailey II Artistic Director Emerita), and Donna Wood will share personal stories and experiences with moderator and 30-year Company member Renee Robinson. These are the women who knew Mr. Ailey best, and their memories will take the audience on a journey behind-the-scenes and back in time.  The rich history of the Company will be discussed, along with how Mr. Ailey’s mission – that “dance came from the people and should always be delivered back to the people” – is being fulfilled.

These women have had a major impact on the Company, guiding dancers over the years and coaching them in works for the current performances dazzling audiences at New York City Center through January 3rd. The holiday season includes a variety of Ailey classics, including Cry, Blues Suite, and Revelations, which will be performed during a special New Year’s Eve 50th Anniversary Celebration for Ms. Jamison, along with Ms. Jamison’s own emotional and sensual A Case of You duet (with a special return by beloved former Ailey dancer Clifton Brown).

Don’t miss this rare look inside one of the world’s most popular and iconic dance companies. Expand your understanding of Alvin Ailey this season by experiencing his classic works at New York City Center, then hearing from the legends who worked directly with the American dance pioneer.

The event takes place at Ailey’s home, the Joan Weill Center for Dance (405 W. 55th St.). Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here. For more information on Ailey’s New York City Center season, visit

About Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey was born on January 5, 1931 in Rogers, Texas. His experiences of life in the rural South would later inspire some of Ailey’s most memorable works. At age 12, he moved with his mother to Los Angeles, where he was introduced to dance by performances of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. His formal dance training began with an introduction to Lester Horton’s classes by his friend, Carmen de Lavallade.  Horton, the founder of the first racially integrated dance company in the United States, became a mentor for Mr. Ailey as he embarked on his professional career. After Horton’s death in 1953, Mr. Ailey became director of the Lester Horton Dance Theater and began to choreograph his own works. In 1954, he was invited to dance in the Broadway musical House of Flowers. He studied dance with Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Hanya Holm and Karel Shook and also took acting classes with Stella Adler. In 1958, he founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to carry out his vision of a company dedicated to enriching the American modern dance heritage and preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience. He established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (now The Ailey School) in 1969 and formed the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now Ailey II) in 1974. Mr. Ailey was a pioneer of Arts In Education programs, particularly those benefiting underserved communities. Throughout his lifetime, he was awarded numerous honorary doctoral degrees, NAACP’s Spingarn Award, the United Nations Peace Medal, the Dance Magazine Award, the Capezio Award and the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award. In 1988, he received the Kennedy Center Honor in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to American culture. When Mr. Ailey died on December 1, 1989, The New York Times said, “you didn’t need to have known [him] personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm and exuberance and his courageous stand for multi-racial brotherhood.”

About the Panel

Judith Jamison became an international star after joining Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1965. Mr. Ailey created many roles for her, most famously the tour-de-force solo Cry, which was a birthday present for his mother, and dedicated to “all black women everywhere – especially our mothers.” Mr. Ailey asked Ms. Jamison to take over as Artistic Director of the Company in 1989, just before his untimely passing. She remained at the helm until 2011, when she chose Robert Battle to succeed her.  Over the last 50 years, Jamison has been honored with numerous awards, was listed in “The TIME 100: The World’s Most Influential People,” and was honored by First Lady Michelle Obama at the first White House Dance Series event. Ailey’s New York City Center season includes a New Year’s Eve 50th Anniversary celebration in her honor.

Sylvia Waters joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1968 and toured with the Company until 1974, when Mr. Ailey selected her to be the Artistic Director of Ailey II, which she led for 38 years. Ms. Waters is a recipient of the Legacy Award as part of the 20th Annual IABD Festival, Syracuse University’s Women of Distinction Award, a Dance Magazine Award, and a “Bessie” Award.  Currently, Ms. Waters leads The Ailey Legacy Residency, a lecture, technique and repertory program for college-level students that looks definitively into the history and creative heritage of Alvin Ailey.

Donna Wood was selected by Mr. Ailey to join the company in 1972. During her 13 years with the Company she became an international dance star of her time and graced the cover of People magazine.  Highly regarded for her lyrical musicality supple extensions, and dramatic intensity, she originated the lead role in Alvin Ailey’s Memoria and became a renowned interpreter of his solo Cry. Wood guest-starred with the Hamburg Ballet, the Vienna State Opera, and the Royal Danish Ballet. In 1985 she left Ailey and took a faculty appointment at CalArts in Valencia, Calif, and in 1987 she starred in a production of Sophisticated Ladies, which toured the Soviet Union and Japan. Three years later Wood retired from performing and married Peter Michael Sanders, with whom she founded the Donna Wood Foundation, “to assist young dancers as they are embarking on careers, giving advice on additional education and skill development” necessary to survival in the dance world.

About the Moderator

Renee Robinson was the recipient of two Ford Foundation scholarships to the School of American Ballet and was awarded full scholarships to the Dance Theatre of Harlem School and The Ailey School. She performed at the White House State Dinner in 2003 in honor of the President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, and at the White House tribute to Judith Jamison in 2010. She was honored with the prestigious Dance Magazine Award. She was a member of Ailey II and a member of the Company from 1981 to 2012.



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