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Alvin Ailey on display

December 30, 2008 |  6:30 am

Ailey_3 On any given night, Angelenos swarm to Walt Disney Concert Hall for a dose of high culture. But they don’t necessarily have to open their wallets to enjoy some of the hall’s offerings. Tucked behind the corridor that leads into the Edythe and Eli Broad Reception Hall on the second floor of Disney Hall is the small, easy-to-overlook Library of Congress/Ira Gershwin Gallery.

And on display there through early April is an exhibit called “Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: 50 Years as Cultural Ambassador to the World” — part of the national celebrations commemorating the first appearance half a century ago of the now world-renowned modern dance troupe. Visitors can view the exhibit free during a tour of the concert hall or while attending a performance.

The show features original artifacts from the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation Archive, owned and operated by the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library and the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The display also includes an extensive collection of photographs illuminating the works of about 70 choreographers who have created dances for the Ailey company as well as images from Ailey’s most beloved creations, including “Revelations” and “Cry.”

Showcased as well are vibrantly colored performance programs, each cover highlighting the smooth lines and muscular force of a dancer’s physique, along with costume sketches by Louis Johnson and  Carol Vollet Garner. One of Ailey’s spiral notebooks is even included, with handwritten notes about exercises based on the dance techniques of his mentor, Lester Horton, scrawled on the pages.

Ailey1_2 And playing on a loop is a video showing some of Ailey’s work and featuring interviews with his muse, Judith Jamison, now artistic director of the company, and other choreographers influenced by his work.
Ailey’s teenage fascination with dance began in L.A. after he saw dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham perform in “Tropical Revue” while it was on tour here in 1945.

More than a decade later, on March 30, 1958, he and a group of eight modern dancers performed — under the name Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — at the 92nd Street Young Men’s Hebrew Assn. in New York. Their concert included Ailey’s now classic piece “Blues Suite.”

With that performance, the Ailey company was born. It has since performed more than 200 works for an estimated 21 million people in 48 states and in 71 countries on six continents.

Ailey, who died in 1989, earned his international fame for his company’s blend of the American modern dance tradition and such African American musical expressions as blues, jazz and spirituals. In all, he created 79 ballets.

The Gershwin gallery is the only Library of Congress permanent exhibition space outside Washington, D.C. The Ailey display is the second Library of Congress exhibit to go up at Disney Hall, after “West Side Story: Birth of a Classic,” which ended its run last March.

“It’s important for the exhibit to be anyplace,” said Elizabeth Aldrich, curator of dance at the Library of Congress, who credits Ailey’s company (which will be at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion from March 18 to 22) with nurturing the talents of both dancers and choreographers. “But there is special significance to the exhibit appearing in L.A., a very large city with a vibrant dance community and the place that fostered Ailey’s love for dance.”

-- Yvonne Villarreal

Photos of Alvin Ailey and Judith Jamison from the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation