Just a few blocks uptown from the street named after him, The Knockturnal gathered among members of the Film at Lincoln Center club on a cloudy July evening to see an advance screening of Ailey, the new documentary on the life of renowned NYC dance visionary Alvin Ailey during the 60th year of his dance company.
After being handed wireless over-ear headsets and escorted to 2×2 seats set up around Damrosch Park, we settled in as Alvin Ailey director Jamila Wignot and producer Lauren DeFillipo took the stage to tell us about their upcoming documentary. Centered around the life and work of Alvin Ailey, an acclaimed dancer, choreographer, activist, and founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), the film explores Ailey’s “commitment to searching for truth in movement resulted in pioneering and enduring choreography that centers on African American experiences.” From his pièce de résistance, the ballet Revelations (1960), to his later years guiding his company, Ailey’s career is told through the lens of his own voice, through voiced-over interviews. His backstory growing up in Texas, moving to New York City and growing into the legendary storyteller he’s recognized as today, all shine through in Ailey.
Wignot and DeFillipo shared their background and feelings on making the film, while the cloudy sky darkened and fireflies circled the stage. Wignot was approached about making the film, and jumped at the opportunity because of her history with the AAADT – the company was brought to perform at her university, and she felt as if “everyone in the audience disappeared and there [she] was, watching these dancers embody the stories of life” (Wignot). Ailey’s work made many black Americans feel the way Wignot felt: “like I was seeing dance, but that I was also seen” (Wignot).
The documentary is composed of video footage of performance, rehearsal, and vintage interviews, which DeFillipo says “couldn’t have been made [into a film] 10 years ago, because there are so many tapes that have been restored recently.” Call it poetic, then, that this film was made possible during the 60th anniversary of the AAADT.
Ailey is showing as a limited release in theaters starting July 23rd, and the filmmakers are “so excited that this film will reach the audiences [they] always dreamed it would,” as the release has been expanded (DeFillipo). This documentary will entrance dance lovers, history enthusiasts, and curious minds alike, and it’s a beautiful celebration of Alvin Ailey’s talent and visionary.