In 1975, the great American choreographer Alvin Ailey described his work: “I’m trying to celebrate man’s achievements—the beauty of music, of shapes, of form, of color, light, texture. The idea of a person doing this with his body—the idea of freedom through discipline—is beautiful to me.”
Beautiful, indeed. As well as deeply inspiring. Ailey’s renowned company, which traces its roots to a now–legendary first performance in March 1958 in New York City, has always stayed faithful to its founder’s original vision of using dance as a medium for “honoring the past, celebrating the present, and fearlessly reaching into the future.” Today, that once–fledgling company stands proudly among the most accomplished and respected dance institutions in the world.
At Cal Performances, we are immensely pleased to have played a significant role in that history, having presented the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) regularly for five decades. With this month’s company residency, we celebrate 50 years of AAADT performances at UC Berkeley, a relationship that began with a handful of modest appearances on a simple platform in Wheeler Auditorium. At that time, the company’s future UC Berkeley home, Zellerbach Hall, was a nearly completed construction site, not far away on a fast-developing Lower Sproul Plaza. And when Zellerbach opened just two months later, the company soon established itself as a regular presence on the auditorium’s expertly designed, dance–friendly stage. Over its storied history, the company has performed more in Zellerbach than on any stage outside of New York.
Today, with each visit, thousands of fans flock to campus to catch up with a troupe of dancers who sometimes feel more like old friends than visiting dance superstars. Audiences come to witness new work by a host of established and emerging international choreographers, as well as to reacquaint themselves with classic repertoire from the past. No individual piece so consistently thrills audiences, of course, than Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, a classic that has long since established its rightful place in the pantheon of dance masterworks. This season, Revelations concludes each of the company’s seven Berkeley performances.
In the coming weeks and months, we will have much to say about the 50th anniversary of the opening of Zellerbach Hall, which first welcomed audiences in May 1968. But this month, the spotlight shines fully on our longtime friends and partners at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It has been a wonderful 50 years together!
Here at Cal Performances, we also have been hard at work finalizing artists and programs for our 2018/19 Season, which will be announced on April 17. Last month, I reported on a major Cal Performances co–commission planned for a March 2019 concert with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Esa–Pekka Salonen—Dreamer, a new oratorio for orchestra, chorus, and soprano by composer Jimmy López and librettist Nilo Cruz that will explore the US immigrant experience, in particular that of undocumented immigrants brought to his country as children, those we call “Dreamers.” On March 22, the New York Times reported on this developing project, stating “This is no ordinary oratorio” and noting that while Cal Performances presents classical music’s biggest names, “it also embraces a spirit of adventure, and works hard to strengthen ties to the campus and community.”
Dreamer is but one of many highlights planned for the 2018/19 Season. I hope you will mark April 17 on your calendar and check back with us for full details following the public announcement. I guarantee you will be excited, surprised, and captivated by what you will discover.
Executive and Artistic Director,