‘Ailey’ Review: A Poetic Look at the Man Behind the Dances

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The idea of ​​Alvin Ailey is often reduced to one dance: “Descriptions.” His exploration of the Black experience in 1960 remains a masterpiece, but it also overshadows the person who made it. How can an artist grow after such an early success? Who was Adam Alvin Ailey?

In “Ailey,” director Jamila Wignot brings together footage, videos and most importantly voiceovers from Ailey to create a portrait that is as poetic and nuanced as the choreography itself. The black-and-white images of the crowds that flock to the church, the children playing, the dance parties, and the dusty landscape of Texas (his birthplace) create an atmosphere. Like Ailey’s dances, the documentary has you swimming in excitement.

Ailey’s story is told side by side Creation of “Lazarus” Paying homage to Ailey, a new dance by contemporary choreographer Rennie Harris proposes an intriguing juxtaposition of past and present. Harris reaches the theme of the resurrection in his quest to uncover the man behind the legacy. Ailey died in 1989, but her spirit lives on in her dancers.

But the first days were not easy. Ailey, born in 1931, never knew her father and remembers “sticking to my mother’s hip.” Swinging in the field. Branches hitting a child’s body. To go from one place to another. I’m looking for a place to be. My mother works in the field. I used to pick cotton.”

He was only 4 years old. Ailey talked about her dances being full of “dark deep things, beautiful things inside me that I always try to get out.”

All this time, Ailey, who was gay, remained extremely private. Here, we especially understand the pain she went through after the sudden death of her friend, choreographer and dancer Joyce Trisler. Choreographed in her honor “Memoria” (1979), solitude and celebration dance. “I couldn’t cry until I saw this piece,” she says.

Ailey’s mental health was fragile towards the end of her life; Wignot shows the crowd converging on the sidewalks, but instead of allowing them to walk normally, he reverses their stride. He had AIDS. Before her death, she transferred her company to Judith Jamison, who summed up her magnetic, enduring existence: “Alvin inhaled and never exhaled.”

Again, this is the idea of ​​resurrection. “We are his breath,” he continues. “So that’s what we’re floating on, that’s what we’re living on.”

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Rated PG-13. Duration: 1 hour 22 minutes. In movie theaters.

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