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Judith Jamison, taking a victory lap

February 27, 2010 | 11:45 am

Judith In 1965, a tall, 22-year-old dancer was spotted by Alvin Ailey at a fellow choreographer’s audition. She felt she’d flubbed the audition badly – and did not get the job – but Ailey was sufficiently impressed by what he saw, and a few days later he invited Judith Jamison to join his modern-dance company. Thus was launched a connection that moved from choreographer-muse to mentor-protege, and culminated with the ailing choreographer asking Jamison to take over as his troupe’s artistic director in 1989, several months before he died. She moved into the role with the magisterial elegance and grace that were her hallmarks as the company’s star performer for 15 years, and became the passionate, eloquent guardian and champion of the Ailey legacy.   

This season, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – which opens a one-week run at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Tuesday – is celebrating Jamison’s 20 years at the helm, even is it prepares for a momentous transition: She plans to step down in mid-2011. The company expects to announce her successor later this year.

“When I joined the company, there were only 10 of us. So we all did everything. We all would hold rehearsals. He was training all of us, all the time,” Jamison recalled recently. Ailey may not have specifically trained her to choreograph, but in 1984 she created her first work for the company, and over the years has contributed a dozen dances to its repertory.

Her latest, “Among Us (Private Spaces, Public Places)”  -- set to an original score by jazz/rock composer Eric Lewis -- will be performed this week, and Jamison has said, somewhat coyly and not all that convincingly, that it could be her last.

 To read my profile in the Arts and Books section, click here.

-- Susan Reiter

Photo: The Alvin Ailey dance company at rehearsal in New York. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times