The Root Interview: Judith Jamison on Leaving Alvin Ailey
After 21 years with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, renowned director Judith Jamison is saying farewell. She spoke to The Root about some of her greatest moments, challenges and accomplishments.
JJ: Getting our building up. The Ailey camps for inner cities all over the country, which I want to proliferate. The B.F.A. program with Fordham University, which allows Ailey students to get their degrees from Fordham. But I have to say they were not my accomplishments alone -- they wouldn't have been possible without my incredible staff. They often had the ideas and just ran them by me for approval.
TR: In relation to the dancers, what are you proud of?
JJ: Bringing in choreographers to challenge them, choreographers like Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Ronald K. Brown, Mauro Bigonzetti, Rennie Harris, Maurice Béjart, John Butler and, of course, Robert Battle. By working with such a diverse group of artists, they've learned all different kinds of styles, and became more flexible as a result. They can literally do anything.
TR: What has been most challenging about leading the company?
JJ: To keep pace with the growth of the organization. It was small when I took over. It's blossomed into a huge artistic endeavor.
TR: What do you plan to do after you step down?
JJ: I'll have a desk at the company for at least a year and check into the classes and rehearsals, coach and keep up with things. One way or another, I'll continue to educate and entertain -- that's my mantra.
TR: Are you excited about going on tour?
JJ: I love being with the dancers in different theaters, hearing the audiences' reactions, catching up with old friends. And it's wonderful to see everything come together, the crew, the wardrobe, all of it creating one beautiful package. But the logistics -- the madness of preparation, the airports, the buses, staying in hotels -- not at all. I wish I could get there by osmosis. That they could beam me into cities so I didn't have to do the traveling. Remember, I started on the road as a dancer in 1964. It's been a long time.
Valerie Gladstone, who writes about the arts for many publications, including the New York Times, recently co-authored a children's book with Jose Ivey, A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student.