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Bill T. Jones remembers the first time he met Alvin Ailey


In this outtake from “Ailey,” Bill T. Jones, guest choreographer of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, recalls telling Alvin Ailey that he did not want to be considered a “Black choreographer,” and Ailey reacting with compassion. “Now I can say it with confidence, but I was lonely,” said Jones. “I was lonely for colleagues who were people of color.”


- The first time I actually met Alvin, it was just before he invited me to come in and do 'Fever Swamp'. I've been invited by the wonderful Denise Jefferson to come and make a work for the Ailey students, the school.

The door opened at one point in this day that we were gonna do the showing of the work.

And there comes Mr. Ailey himself with Pearl Primus and quite an entourage.

They come in.

And the air was, 'We've come to see the new dance.'

We did the showing.

I don't really know what he made of this showing, but I know we were having a 'casual conversation,' but the whole room went quiet.

And so I'm sitting and trying to just talk to him, but I realized everyone is leaning in to listen.

I remember me saying to him, maybe with a little bit of aggression.

Because we were decidedly independent from Midtown Dance.

And I was very much concerned that I did not want to be considered a Black choreographer.

It was not, I felt that it was, it ghettoized me.

I felt that it did something that I did not want.

I didn't wanna be part of that discussion, but he was so charming.

He and I really, there was a little spark, but I think he looked at me and he, with some sort of, do I dare say compassion or maybe it was recognition.

Because there was something happening.

Now, I can say it with confidence, but I was lonely.

I was lonely for colleagues who were people of color.

It rolls off the tongue easily right now, but at that time it was, 'Who are the Black people in modern dance?'

And there were very few downtown in the Avant Garde, but he saw what I was going for, I believe he did.

And he embraced me by offering me 'Fever Swamp'. And then later 'How to Walk an Elephant'. I will always be very grateful for that.

(tranquil music)


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