Alvin Ailey’s debuted his signature ballet Revelations in 1960 at the 92nd Y in New York City. The choreography was inspired by Ailey’s childhood in Texas where he spent much time in church as a refuge for his creative beginnings. He founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958 with the intention of honoring Black culture. The original verve of Revelations pulled gospel, blues and spirituals into three pieces of movement. Ailey was mentored by Lester Horton and he had studied Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Asadata Dafora. Ailey’s dancers told a story that began with rising up and having a spiritual awakening, purification and jubliance. The first performance had 10 sections, two soloists and lasted more than an hour. The show was received positively by audiences and critics but the dance company would not have a major breakthrough until Revelations was performed in Russia in 1970. An audience of 22 million saw the ballet and when the company returned to America this success enabled it to become a resident company of New York City Center. Ailey would choreograph over 79 dances for his company but Revelations remains his most known and influential work.
Ailey directed his dance company up until 1980 when he had a nervous breakdown and one of his former star dancers Judith Jamison became the co-director. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1988 and passed in 1989. He posthumously received the Presidential Medal Of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2014.
In 2020, the AAADT created the Ailey All Access digital platform in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which stopped their ability to tour. In 2021, the company returned to live stage performances. On January 11, 2022 the documentary American Masters: Ailey will premiere on PBS.