NEW AILEY DOCUMENTARY AIRS ON THIRTEEN/WNET NEW YORK'S
DANCE IN AMERICA ON PBS
NEW YORK, NY-"It's always good to remember where you came from," says Alvin Ailey
American Dance Theater dancer Dwana Adiaha Smallwood. "That spirit, that raw energy
is why I'm here. Sometimes I go into rehearsal and I just want them to press Play.
No notes, no corrections, no talking - just press Play! Let's dance! Hit it!"
Born and raised in Brooklyn, in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the
dynamic Smallwood is a key player among the vibrant company dancers,
choreographers and staff who share the spotlight with famed Artistic
Director Judith Jamison in the cinema-verité performance documentary
Beyond the Steps: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, premiering
Wednesday, June 21 at 8 p.m. (ET) as a Dance in America special on
Thirteen/WNET New York's GREAT PERFORMANCES on PBS (check local
Beyond the Steps takes an engaging look at a company that is thriving today and
moving forward, taking their founder's legacy with them. It follows the dancers to
Russia after an absence of nearly 20 years, observes as the company moves into a
state-of-the-art custom-built facility on Manhattan's West Side, and is on hand for
the creation of a new ballet, Love Stories, choreographed by Jamison, with hip-hop
pioneer Rennie Harris and modern dance maverick Robert Battle.
"As Love Stories evolved, I realized I wanted young people to represent what was
going on now, and what could possibly go on in the future," Jamison says. "That's
why I divided it into past, present and future, and that's why I chose Rennie Harris
for present and Robert Battle for future." Noting that her section, set to Stevie
Wonder's "If It's Magic," represents the past, she adds that she picked Harris and
Battle "because of the way they move...their choreographic intent, and their sense
of theater, and just plain old talent."
Plain old talent, indeed, is the leitmotif running through Beyond the Steps, which
takes its cue from the past/present/future concept. The past revolves around the
creation of Love Stories and Jamison's contributions to the company. Classically
trained, she joined the troupe in 1965 and soon became one of its leading dancers.
Ailey choreographed the famous solo Cry for Jamison in 1971, establishing her
international reputation. Upon his death in 1989 she was appointed artistic
The company's triumphant tour to Russia in 2005, capped by its resounding success at
the Mariinsky Theatre, cradle of Russian classical ballet, comprises the present,
and reveals the great love worldwide that the troupe engenders. It is also on the
Mariinsky's mammoth stage that Love Stories is performed, before a rapturous Russian
audience. Recalls dancer Guillermo Asca, "We were told that if people don't like
it, they leave. They stuck around."
The future, of course, is the company's new eight-story home at 55th St. and Ninth
Avenue, a dream-come-true facility to nurture and stimulate current and future Ailey
artists. The largest of its kind in the nation dedicated to dance, complete with
its own 300-seat black box theater, it now houses the entire Ailey organization,
including Ailey II, The Ailey School, Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs,
and The Ailey Extension. Says Denise Jefferson, director of The Ailey School, "The
ceilings are so high you never have to worry about a lift or a jump. The sky's the
limit in terms of what you do, in terms of how you dance."
Limits, of course, have never been part of the Ailey vocabulary. Certainly not for
its founder, and certainly not for those who have followed him. Says Judith
Jamison: "I'm always telling dancers that you're not defined by the end of your
fingertips, or the top of your head, or the bottom of your feet. You are the
expanse. You are the infinity."
Also featured in the telecast are Ailey Associate Artistic Director Masazumi Chaya,
Executive Director Sharon Gersten Luckman, General Manager Calvin Hunt, impresario
Paul Szilard, and current company dancers.
Indeed, it is the dancers who provide many of the documentary's most lasting images.
One performer, told that her broken toe is on the mend and that soon she would be
walking, exclaims: "I don't want to walk, I want to dance! Who cares about
Beyond the Steps: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is a production of Symbiotic in
association with Thirteen/WNET New York. It is produced and directed by Phil
Bertelsen, an award-winning filmmaker best known for co-producing Chisholm '72
(2004) and producing the EveryOther episode of the PBS mini-series Matters of Race
Long a favorite of GREAT PERFORMANCES/Dance in America viewers, Alvin
Ailey (1931-1989) and his company have appeared often in the series,
most recently in 1999's A Hymn for Alvin Ailey, created by Judith
Jamison, Anna Deveare Smith and Orlando Bagwell.
GREAT PERFORMANCES is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,
the National Endowment for the Arts, public television viewers, and PBS.
Major corporate support is provided by Ernst & Young LLP, a global
leader in professional services.
Special funding for this telecast was provided by The Ford Foundation, Fred
Eychaner, The Starr Foundation, The National Black Programming Consortium, Altria
Group, Inc., Ira M. Resnick Foundation, and The Allison Foundation. Also: Adrian &
Jessie Archbold Charitable Trust, Nadja Fidelia, Patricia Laskawy, Gloria & Stanley
Plesent, The Jerome Robbins Foundation, John H. Schaefer & Pamela D. Zilly, Spencer
Stuart, Joan & Sandy Weill, Guido Goldman, Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, and Judith &
Visit GREAT PERFORMANCES ONLINE at thirteen.org and pbs.org for
additional information about this and other GREAT PERFORMANCES programs.
The colorful Web companion contains a wide variety of images, in-depth
information about the programs, and activities for teachers, including
lesson plans, tips and resources.
Founded in 1958, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) is known as America's
cultural ambassador to the world. To date, AAADT has performed for more than 21
million people in 71 countries and on 6 continents. The Alvin Ailey Dance
Foundation, Inc. is the umbrella organization which includes AAADT; Ailey II,
founded in 1974 as a junior performing company of emerging young dancers and
innovative choreographers; The Ailey School, founded in 1969 and currently offering
some of the most extensive dance training programs in the world; Ailey Arts In
Education & Community Programs which offers year-round activities and camps that
benefit underserved youth in New York and cities across the country; and The Ailey
Extension, which offers dance and fitness classes to the general public.