With the 60th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre approaching, plans for a celebratory work of choreography were serendipitously met by director Jamila Wignot’s intention to make a film about the legendary choreographer.

Told in Ailey’s own words through archive recordings, and present-day interviews with his dancers, the film shares his story: from a young boy living with his hardworking mother in Texas, to his arrival in New York as a dancer in the 1950s, to the foundation of his own company in 1960, where he developed his innovative vision. Ailey’s choreography connected with his experiences and identity as a Black American, and his dance company was revered as the most innovative in the world.

An incredible treasure trove of archive footage illuminates not only his choreography but also the everyday experience of Black American life in the early 20th century, with moments that capture a happiness and exuberance that has been historically absent from on-screen representation.

Wignot creates a dialogue between the present-day 60th anniversary choreography and Ailey’s work; his deeply personal expression through dance is conveyed in this film’s vivid storytelling.

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