Ailey formed his own group, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in 1958. The group presented its inaugural concert on March 30, 1958. Notable early work included Blues Suite, a piece deriving from blues songs. Ailey’s choreography was a dynamic and vibrant mix growing out of his previous training in ballet, modern dance, jazz, and African dance techniques. Ailey insisted upon a complete theatrical experience, including costumes, lighting, and make-up. A work of intense emotional appeal expressing the pain and anger of African Americans, Blues Suite was an instant success and defined Ailey’s style.
For his signature work, Revelations, Ailey drew upon his “blood memories” of Texas, the blues, spirituals, and gospel. These forces resulted in the creation of his most popular and critically acclaimed work. Ailey originally intended the dance to be the second part of a larger, evening-length survey of African-American music which he began with Blues Suite.
Although Ailey created 79 works for his dancers, he maintained that his company was not merely a showcase for his own work. Today, the company continues Ailey’s vision by performing important works from the past and commissioning new additions to the repertoire. In all, more than 200 works by over 70 choreographers have been performed by the company
Ailey was proud that his company was multi-racial. While he wanted to give opportunities to black dancers, who were frequently excluded from performances by racist attitudes at the time, he also wanted to rise above issues of negritude. His company always employed artists based solely on artistic talent and integrity regardless of their race.
Ailey continued to create work for his own company and also choreographed for other companies.
In 1962 the U.S. State Departmentsponsored the Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s first overseas tour. Ailey was suspicious of his government benefactors’ motives. He suspected they were propagandistic, seeking to advertise a false tolerance by showcasing a modern Negro dance group.
In 1970, Ailey was honored by a commission to create The River for ABT (ABT). Ailey viewed The River, which he based on the music of composer Duke Ellington, as a chance to work with some of the finest ballet dancers in the world, particularly with the great dramatic ballerina Sallie Wilson. ABT, however, insisted that the leading male role be danced by the only black man, despite misgivings by Ailey and others about the dancer’s talent.
Cry (1971) was one of Ailey’s greatest successes. He dedicated it to his mother and black women everywhere. It became a signature piece for Judith Jamison.
The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater was constructed by Tishman Realty and Construction Corporation of New York, Manhattan’s largest builder