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  • (Music: "Wade in the Water" by Ella Jenkins)

  • Wade in the water

  • Wade in the water, children

  • Wade in the water

  • God's a-gonna trouble the water

  • Oh, why don't you wade in the water

  • Wade in the water, children

  • Wade in the water

  • God's a-gonna trouble the water

  • See that man all dressed in white

  • God's a-gonna trouble the water

  • He looks like a man of the Israelite

  • God's a-gonna trouble the water

  • Wade in the water

  • Wade in the water, children

  • Wade in the water

  • God's a-gonna trouble the water

  • See that man all dressed in red

  • God's a-gonna trouble the water

  • It looks like the man that Moses led

  • God's a-gonna trouble the water

  • Wade in the water

  • Wade in the water, children

  • Wade in the water

  • God's a-gonna trouble the water

  • Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel

  • Daniel, Daniel

  • Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel

  • Then why not every man?

  • Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel

  • Daniel, Daniel

  • Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel

  • Why not every man?

  • Man went down to the river

  • Man went down to the river

  • Man went down to the river

  • Went down there for to pray

  • Man went down to the river

  • Man went down to the river

  • Man went down to the river

  • To wash his sins away

  • He washed all day, he washed all night

  • He washed till his hands were sore

  • He washed all day, he washed all night

  • Till he couldn't wash a-no more

  • Man went down to the river

  • Man went down to the river

  • Man went down to the river

  • (Music fades)

  • (Applause)

  • (Juliet Blake) And now, let's give a warm welcome

  • to the artistic director emerita of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater,

  • Judith Jamison.

  • (Applause)

  • Judith Jamison: Thanks.

  • How are y'all?

  • (Audience cheers)

  • JJ: Yeah, you know you've just been to church?

  • (Laughter)

  • You just saw a baptism, yes?

  • This is from this wonderful piece Mr. Ailey created in 1960,

  • called "Revelations."

  • Mr. Ailey was 29 years old when he choreographed this masterpiece.

  • It's been danced all over the world and understood universally,

  • because he understood the humanity in us all.

  • "Revelations" is a reflection of a journey we all take in life,

  • and, hopefully, triumphantly.

  • That was the magic of Alvin Ailey.

  • He was able to see you, in the audience,

  • see me, as the dancer,

  • and see the connection between us,

  • and choreographed works that connected us all.

  • So you felt he was telling your story,

  • while I felt I was dancing mine.

  • I started dancing when I was six years old

  • in Philadelphia.

  • I was skinny ...

  • (Laughter)

  • Dark chocolate,

  • and a kid with legs up to my armpits.

  • And the very first performance I had, at the Judimar School of Dance,

  • was in a red checkered shirt,

  • dungarees, pink ballet shoes,

  • and we were dancing to "I'm an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande."

  • I loved every minute of it.

  • I mean, I literally did love every minute of it,

  • especially when I heard the applause,

  • and I knew right there, when I was six, I said,

  • "That's for me."

  • (Laughter)

  • At six, you're not thinking

  • that's going to be a career of your lifetime,

  • but that was perfect for that moment.

  • I danced my way through school, and through college,

  • and it still didn't dawn on me that that's what I actually wanted to do.

  • I went to an audition,

  • which I was dreadful in --

  • it's the only audition I've had in my life --

  • and when I was let go from that audition --

  • because I thought when they were saying, "Thank you very much,"

  • that meant for me to stay.

  • (Laughter)

  • I ran up the steps,

  • and there was a man sitting on the steps.

  • And I barely noticed him.

  • He was an observer.

  • Three days later, that man called me

  • and asked me, would I like to join the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

  • That's how it happened, folks, that's it.

  • There's no drama or trauma.

  • (Applause)

  • So I spent 15 years dancing with the company,

  • and then I directed it for something like 21 years.

  • If you were black and African American and a dancer,

  • any time between the '40s and the '70s,

  • you had much to say,

  • because your complete voice was not being heard.

  • And you were not being represented as you truly were.

  • Alvin Ailey had the courage,

  • right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement,

  • to present the truth about who we were --

  • that our creativity, our beauty,

  • our intelligence, our talents

  • were an intrinsic part of the panoply of American culture.

  • Our mantra has always been to educate, to entertain,

  • and to lift our audiences.

  • Mr. Ailey believed that dance came from the people

  • and needed to be delivered back to the people.

  • We didn't dance in a vacuum.

  • It was our mission to serve people.

  • We call it outreach now,

  • but it's always been a part of who we were and still are,

  • 60 years later, to this day.

  • Being inclusive of our audiences --

  • it's always been an important part of the company.

  • We ask ourselves, who are we dancing for?

  • Why are we dancing, if not to show people what it is to be human

  • and to connect with the audiences that we dance for.

  • We've always felt responsible to make sure the community understood

  • that what we do is a part of their heritage.

  • We just don't do this, also, in America,

  • we do it all over the world.

  • We tour more than any other dance company in the world.

  • After Nelson Mandela was released from prison,

  • I thought, well, this is the time to go to South Africa.

  • And that was some outreach.

  • We went to Johannesburg, Soweto,

  • and some other townships that were really in dire straits.

  • And it dawned on me, as we were there, I'm going like,

  • "Here we are in the seat of Mother Africa,

  • and we're trying to teach these people how to dance?"

  • (Laughter)

  • But it was our African Americanness that they were interested in,

  • and the culture that we had developed over the last 400 years.

  • We toured all over the world many times,

  • and whether we're in Europe or South America or Asia

  • or somewhere else,

  • audiences are thrilled and excited.

  • You sounded thrilled and excited.

  • Sometimes with tears in their eyes,

  • because this nonverbal communication really works.

  • And it's about embracing everyone.

  • Alvin didn't need to explain to us

  • what was going on at the time in the '60s and the '70s;

  • it was obvious why were doing his work.

  • He knew what the truth of the time was about,

  • and he was unafraid to reveal it through dance.

  • He tapped into every emotion he had and we had,

  • and from angerness to happiness,

  • to grief and everything in between,

  • he knew us.

  • He took our history and turned it into powerful dance.

  • He and I overlapped generationally.

  • We didn't have to talk about things so much,

  • because we understood implicitly our shared responsibilities.

  • So when he asked me to take over the company

  • before he passed in 1989,

  • I felt prepared to carry it forward.

  • Alvin and I were like parts of the same tree.

  • He, the roots and the trunk,

  • and we were the branches.

  • I was his muse.

  • We were all his muses.

  • The ballet "Cry,"

  • which some of you might have seen --

  • you're going to see an excerpt of it --

  • it was made on me,

  • and Alvin dedicated it to all black women,

  • especially our mothers.

  • When Alvin and I went in the studio,

  • of course he wasn't thinking,

  • "Here I am, creating an iconic work."

  • Do you know any artist that does that?

  • You don't go into the studio

  • to create anything

  • but what's coming truthfully from your heart and your spirit.

  • And you trust that you have a dancer you can share that with.

  • Rehearsal space is a sacred space,

  • not to be intruded upon,

  • because it's about talking to each other through spirit.

  • You better have some technique on top of that

  • so you can do the dance.

  • (Laughter)

  • He brought his Alvin to "Cry" and I brought my Judy to it.

  • I just did the steps.

  • And this was a birthday present for his mother,

  • because he couldn't afford to get her a tactile gift.

  • When I performed it the first time,

  • it was physically and emotionally draining.

  • I hadn't yet run through the whole piece from beginning to end.

  • The ballet is 16 minutes long.

  • It's about a proud woman who has been to hell and back,

  • from her journey across the Atlantic.

  • She's exhausted,

  • she's a queen,

  • and in this section, you're going to see she is triumphant.

  • She made it,

  • and she is, in that last step that she does,

  • beating away anything negative

  • with her tremendous strength.

  • And in the last step, she digs into the earth

  • and she reaches into the sky ...

  • because she's clearing space for the next journey.

  • I performed it in 1971,

  • and we are still clearing space.

  • Now let me leave you with one last thought.

  • Here we are, in the 21st century,

  • still fighting for civil rights.

  • Not a day goes by

  • that we are not made aware of the struggle that continues.

  • I believe that dance can elevate our human experience

  • beyond words.

  • And when you're sitting in the dark,

  • in the theater,

  • having a personal experience,

  • you don't feel blocked or misunderstood.

  • You feel open,

  • alive,

  • and, we hope,

  • inspired.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

  • (Music: "Right on. Be free." by East Harlem)

  • I wanna go where the north wind blows

  • I wanna know what the falcon knows

  • I wanna go where the wild goose goes

  • High flyin' bird, high flyin' bird, fly on

  • I want the clouds over my head

  • I don't want no store bought bed

  • I'm gonna live until I'm dead

  • Mother, mother, mother Save your child

  • Right on, be free

  • Right on, be free

  • Right on, be free

  • I don't want no store bought bed

  • Right on

  • I want the clouds over my head