Alvin Ailey, a Leading Figure In Modern Dance, Dies at 58
By JENNIFER DUNNING
Published: December 2, 1989
Alvin Ailey, who rose from a childhood of extreme poverty in the segregated world of small-town Texas to become a leading figure in the establishment of modern dance as a popular art form in America, died yesterday at Lenox Hill Hospital after a long illness. He was 58 years old. Dr. Albert Knapp, Mr. Ailey's physician, attributed his death to terminal blood dyscrasia, a rare disorder that affects the bone marrow and red blood cells.
As a choreographer, dancer and director, Mr. Ailey also played an important role in establishing black modern dance. He became a noted Broadway dancer and, starting in the late 1950's, a choreographer of work that explored a wide range of the black experience. A Humanist Vision
The troupe he founded in 1958, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, became the most popular dance company on the international touring circuit. At home and abroad, the company was known for its vibrant artistry and repertory, and for Mr. Ailey's motivating humanist vision. The company opens a three-week season on Wednesday at City Center.
Mr. Ailey saw his troupe as fulfilling the need for a repertory company that would perform modern-dance classics along with his own works. To that end he presented signature pieces, otherwise infrequently performed, by such pioneers as Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus and Ted Shawn. The company served as a repository for contemporary modern dance by black choreographers like Talley Beatty, Donald McKayle and George Faison. And Mr. Ailey invited younger modernists, including Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, Elisa Monte and Ulysses Dove, to create dances for the company.
Mr. Ailey's own dances, however, form the core of the company's repertory. They range from work drawn from his memories of the black churches and honky-tonk bars he knew as a child to searing social protest dances like his 1969 ''Masekela Langage'' (a piece about being black in South Africa), to spirited, stylish celebrations of the music of Duke Ellington (''Night Creature,'' 1974).
An imposing, shy bear of a man, Mr. Ailey was capable of extreme reserve as well as sudden bursts of exuberance and deep affection for longtime colleagues. He spoke often of his belief in the universality of art, sometimes using his ''Revelations'' as an example. That 1960 work, which became his most popular piece and a classic of American modern dance, celebrated black spirituals, gospel music and small-town religion. ''Its roots are in American Negro culture, which is part of the whole country's heritage,'' Mr. Ailey once said. ''But the dance speaks to everyone. . . . Otherwise it wouldn't work.''
Mr. Ailey, who stopped dancing in 1965, drew upon classical ballet, jazz dance, Afro-Caribbean dance and the modern-dance idioms of Lester Horton and Martha Graham for his pieces. In an interview in 1971, he said: ''We talk too much of black art when we should be talking about art, just art. Black composers must be free to write rondos and fugues, not only protest songs. I use Ellington and I want to use more of his music, but it's music.''
In the modern-dance world, once known for cultish audiences, he was sometimes criticized for the overt theatricality of the company's performances and repertory. ''The black pieces we do that come from blues, spirituals and gospels are part of what I am,'' he said in a 1973 interview with Ellen Cohn in The New York Times Magazine. ''They are as honest and truthful as we can make them. I'm interested in putting something on stage that will have a very wide appeal without being condescending; that will reach an audience and make it part of the dance; that will get everybody in the theater. What do people mean when they say we're 'Broadway'? If it's art and entertainment - thank God, that's what I want to be.''
The company was composed exclusively of black dancers until 1963, and Mr. Ailey was criticized in an era of black militancy for his subsequent decision to integrate his troupe. ''I feel an obligation to use black dancers because there must be more opportunities for them, but not because I'm a black choreographer talking to black people,'' he said in the 1973 interview. But he added: ''I met some incredible dancers of other colors who could cut the work. Also, we were running into reverse racism. On our Asian tour in 1962, people kept saying about my pieces and Talley Beatty's piece - 'Oh, they're wonderful, but only black people can do jazz.' ''
''I don't think black dancers should be limited that way,'' he continued. ''There's a well-known choreographer who says black people in 'Swan Lake' are historically inaccurate. Well, then white people and Orientals in 'Revelations' are historically inaccurate - but it works anyway. It's like saying only French people should do Racine or Moliere. Black people are not historically inaccurate, but we have been historically ignored.''
Mr. Ailey, the choreographer Eugene Loring once said, ''fused black and white dance into a brilliant chiaroscuro.'' A Lonely Childhood Alvin Ailey was born on Jan. 5, 1931, in Rogers, Tex., a small town 50 miles south of Waco. His mother, Lula, was 17 when he was born; she was abandoned by her husband six months later. There was a deep attachment between Mr. Ailey and his mother, who earned their livelihood by picking cotton and doing laundry and domestic work. Later she worked in an aircraft factory in Los Angeles.
As a lonely child in Navasota, Tex., where the two moved when Mr. Ailey was 6, he spent much time drawing insects, writing enigmatic poetry and playing the tuba. Religious services and social activities at the True Vine Baptist Church and the goings-on at the Dew Drop Inn, a dance hall and bar, made a deep impression on the child and served later as inspiration for several of Mr. Ailey's dances, including the 1958 ''Blues Suite,'' his first choreographic success.
Mr. Ailey came into contact with dance gradually in Los Angeles, where he and his mother moved when he was 12. An athletic student with a gift for foreign languages, Mr. Ailey did backyard imitations of Gene Kelly, but did not see a live dance performance until a junior high school class trip to a performance by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Though disappointed that ''Scheherazade'' seemed so tame, he began to haunt the city's theater section. ''I first saw the Dunham company there,'' he recalled years later. ''I went over one day and there were pictures of black dancers.''
Fascinated by Miss Dunham's ''Tropical Revue,'' he was persuaded by a school friend to take dance classes with a member of the Dunham company. He was put off, however, by the tawdry atmosphere of the nightclub in which the class took place. Then he encountered the work of Lester Horton, an influential modern dance teacher and choreographer who was based in Los Angeles. Horton was known for taking inspiration from American Indian dance and Japanese theater, for his philosophy of total theater and for his racially integrated dance company, said to be the first in the nation. 'I Nearly Fainted'
Mr. Ailey said of his introduction to Horton's style: ''One day a friend showed me some movements from a class he was taking, and I nearly fainted. I said, 'Oh, my God, what is that?' And he said, 'That's modern dancing.' ''
Mr. Ailey began to study with Horton in 1949 and made his debut as a dancer with the company the following year. He left several times to study languages at the University of California at Los Angeles and other area colleges, but returned to the company in 1953 and found himself taking over as director when Horton died that year.
Mr. Ailey created his first three dances for the company. But in 1954 he and Carmen de Lavallade, also a Horton dancer, were invited to perform on Broadway as featured dancers in Truman Capote's ''House of Flowers.'' The musical ran for only four months, but Mr. Ailey settled in New York to study modern dance with Martha Graham, Hanya Holm and Charles Weidman, ballet with Karel Shook and acting with Stella Adler and Milton Katselas.
He went on to appear in the 1954 film ''Carmen Jones,'' acted in the 1955 Off Broadway production ''The Carefree Tree,'' and returned to Broadway in 1957 in the musical ''Jamaica.'' He directed the revue ''African Holiday'' in 1960 and co-directed ''Jerico-Jim Crow,'' a song-play by Langston Hughes, Off Broadway in 1964. There were other acting roles, in ''Call Me by My Rightful Name'' in 1961 and on Broadway in ''Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright'' in 1962. His choreography over the next few years included dance for Samuel Barber's opera ''Antony and Cleopatra,'' which was the first Metropolitan Opera production at Lincoln Center, and for Leonard Bernstein's ''Mass,'' for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. The Start of a Company
But it was an earlier concert, in March 1958 at the 92d Street Y in New York, that crystallized his future. In a performance shared with Ernest Parham, Mr. Ailey and six other dancers presented three works, including ''Blues Suite.'' Three months later, John Martin, dance critic of The Times, singled out Mr. Ailey as one of the six outstanding artists that season. ''As a performer he has a rich, animal quality of movement and an innate sense of theatrical projection, which have been known before; but as a choreographer he had not previously shown his work here. It was an impressive debut.''
Mr. Martin described ''Blues Suite'' as ''inherently substantial stuff.'' He wrote: ''It is overflowing with variety; it is beautifully staged, with excellent decor and costumes by Geoffrey Holder, and on this occasion was superbly danced. An admirable piece of work all around.''
The concert was the start of Mr. Ailey's company. Four years later the State Department sent the Ailey dancers to Australia and Southeast Asia on the first of many immensely successful foreign tours. Domestic successes were few, however, until a 1969 engagement on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theater.
Later that year, the Ailey troupe became a resident company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a relationship that lasted three seasons. Bookings were still slow, though the company was to tour the Soviet Union the following year at the invitation of the State Department, the first American modern-dance troupe to do so since Isadora Duncan's group in the 1920's. Suddenly, Mr. Ailey announced the dissolution of the troupe, and the State Department stepped in to save the company with an additional tour of North Africa. Joined the City Center
A successful two-week season at the ANTA Theater in New York early in 1971 helped to establish the troupe as a major company. That year, Mr. Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, the company's bustling official school and the home of the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, a junior troupe. In 1972, the company joined the City Center of Music and Drama. The school and companies have just moved into new headquarters near Lincoln Center.
Today, the 28-member company has an annual season at City Center and a 35-week national and international touring season. It has performed in 45 countries on 6 continents. Mr. Ailey's choreography, including commissioned premieres, has also been performed by the American Ballet Theater, the Joffrey Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the London Festival Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet and companies in Italy, Venezuela and Israel.
In 1988, Mr. Ailey was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors from President Reagan, and received New York City's Handel Medallion for achievement in the arts.His dance honors included the 1987 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award, the 1979 Capezio Award and the 1975 Dance Magazine Award. He received honorary doctorates from Princeton University, Bard College and Adelphi University, and in 1976 he was awarded the Spingarn Medal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Success was not achieved easily. Mr. Ailey suffered a breakdown in 1980, and was hospitalized after a number of public outbursts. Judith Jamison, the Ailey star for whom the choreographer created ''Cry,'' another signature piece, in 1971, once said: ''Alvin needs to really believe that he has done great things, that he - more than anyone else - has done great things for black dance in America.''
Mr. Ailey is survived by his mother, Lula Cooper; his stepfather, Frederick W. Cooper, and his half-brother, Calvin Walls, all of Los Angeles.
Alvin Ailey (January 5, 1931 – December 1, 1989) was an African-American choreographer and activist who founded theAlvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. He is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation in 20th-century concert dance. His company gained the nickname "Cultural Ambassador to the World" because of its extensive international touring. Ailey's choreographic masterpiece Revelations is believed to be the best known and most often seen modern dance performance. In 1977, Ailey was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1988, just one year before his death. In 2014, PresidentBarack Obama selected Ailey to be a posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ailey was born to his 17-year-old mother, Lula Elizabeth Ailey, in Rogers, Texas. His father, also named Alvin, abandoned the family when Alvin was only six months old. Like many African Americans living in Texas during the Great Depression, Ailey and his mother moved often and had a hard time finding work. Ailey grew up during a time of racial segregation, violence and lynchings against African Americans. Early experiences in the Southern Baptist church and juke joints instilled in him a fierce sense of black pride that would later figure prominently in Ailey's signature works.
In the fall of 1942, Ailey's mother, in common with many African Americans, migrated to Los Angeles, California, where she heard of lucrative work supporting the wareffort. Ailey, aged 11, joined his mother later by train, having stayed behind in Texas to finish out the school year. Ailey's first junior high school in California was located in a primarily white school district. As one of the few black students, Ailey felt out of place because of his fear of whites, so the Aileys moved to a predominantly black school district. He matriculated at George Washington Carver Junior High School, and later attended the Thomas Jefferson High School. He sang spirituals in the glee club, wrote poetry, and demonstrated a talent for languages. He regularly attended shows at Lincoln Theater and the Orpheum Theater. Ailey did not become serious about dance until in 1949 his school friend Carmen De Lavallade introduced him to the Hollywood studio of Lester Horton. Horton would prove to be Ailey's major influence, becoming a mentor and giving him both a technique and a foundation with which to grow artistically.[page needed]
Horton's school taught a wide range of dance styles and techniques, including classical ballet, jazz, and Native American dance. Alvin quickly fell in love with dance.Horton's school was also the first multi-racial dance school in the United States.[page needed] Ailey was, at first, ambivalent about becoming a professional dancer. He had studied Romance languages at various universities in California, but was restless, academically, and took courses as well in the writings of James Baldwin,Langston Hughes, and Carson McCullers. He moved to San Francisco to continue his studies in 1951. There, he met Marguerite Johnson, who later changed her name to Maya Angelou. They occasionally performed a nightclub act called "Al and Rita". Ailey earned a living waiting tables and dancing at the New Orleans Champagne Supper Club. Eventually, he returned to study dance with Horton in southern California.[page needed]
The Horton Dance Company
He was introduced to the company through Carmen, a lifelong friend. At the age of 22 Ailey began full-time study at Horton's school. He joined Horton's company in 1953, making his debut in Horton's Revue Le Bal Caribe. It was during this period that Ailey performed in several Hollywood films. Like all of Horton's students, Ailey studied other art forms, including painting, acting, music, set design, and costuming, as well as ballet and other forms of modern and ethnic dance.
When Horton died in November 1953 the tragedy left the company without an artistic director. The company had outstanding contracts that required and desired new works. When no one else stepped forward, Ailey assumed the role of artistic director. Despite his youth and lack of experience (Ailey was only 22 years old and had choreographed only one dance in a workshop) he began choreographing, directing scene and costume designs, and running rehearsal and he also directed one of the shows for the company.
In 1954, he and his friend Carmen De Lavallade were invited to New York to dance in the Broadway show, House of Flowers by Truman Capote, starring Pearl Baileyand Diahann Carroll. He also appeared in Sing, Man, Sing (1956, starring Harry Belafonte) and in Jamaica (1957) with Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalbán. The New York modern dance scene in the fifties was not to Ailey's taste. He observed the classes of modern dance contemporaries such as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and José Limón. He felt Graham's dancing "finicky and strange" and disliked the techniques of both Humphrey and Limón. Ailey expressed disappointment at not being able to find a technique similar to Horton's. Not finding a mentor, he began creating works of his own.
Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
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 includedBlues 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 Department sponsored 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). He 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.
Ailey made use of any combination of dance techniques that best suited the theatrical moment. Valuing eclecticism, he created more a dance style than a technique. He said that what he wanted from a dancer was a long, unbroken leg line and deftly articulated legs and feet ("a ballet bottom") combined with a dramatically expressive upper torso ("a modern top"). "What I like is the line and technical range that classical ballet gives to the body. But I still want to project to the audience the expressiveness that only modern dance offers, especially for the inner kinds of things."
Ailey's dancers came to his company with training from a variety of other schools, from ballet to modern and jazz and later hip-hop. He was unique in that he did not train his dancers in a specific technique before they performed his choreography. He approached his dancers more in the manner of a jazz conductor, requiring them to infuse his choreography with a personal style that best suited their individual talents. This openness to input from dancers heralded a paradigm shift that brought concert dance into harmony with other forms of African-American expression, including big band jazz.
In 1992 Alvin Ailey was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Ailey kept his life as a dancer a secret from his mother for the first two years.
For a time during the 1950s, Ailey was said by some to have been romantically linked with political activist [according to whom?]David McReynolds.
Ailey died on December 1, 1989 at the age of 58. To spare his mother the social stigma of his death from HIV/AIDS, he asked his doctor to announce that he had died of terminal blood dyscrasia.
- Cinco Latinos, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Kaufmann Concert Hall, New York City, 1958.
- Blues Suite (also see below), Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre,Kaufmann Concert Hall, 1958.
- Revelations, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Kaufmann ConcertHall, 1960.
- Three for Now, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Clark Center, New York City, 1960.
- Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Clark Center, 1960.
- (With Carmen De Lavallade) Roots of the Blues, Lewisohn Stadium, New York City, 1961.
- Hermit Songs, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1963.
- Ariadne, Harkness Ballet, Opera Comique, Paris, 1965.
- Macumba, Harkness Ballet, Gran Teatro del Liceo, Barcelona, Spain,1966, then produced as Yemanja, Chicago Opera House, 1967.
- Quintet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh Festival, Scotland, 1968, then Billy Rose Theatre, New York City, 1969.
- Masekela Langage, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, American Dance Festival, New London, Connecticut, 1969, then Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City, 1969.
- Streams (also see below), Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1970.
- Gymnopedies, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1970.
- The River, American Ballet Theatre, New York State Theater, 1970.
- Flowers, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, ANTA Theatre, 1971.
- Myth, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1971.
- Choral Dances, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1971.
- Cry, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1971.
- Mingus Dances, Robert Joffrey Company, New York City Center, 1971.
- Mary Lou's Mass, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1971.
- Song for You, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1972.
- The Lark Ascending, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Center, 1972.
- Love Songs, Alvin Ailey City Center Dance Theater, New York City Center, 1972.
- Shaken Angels, 10th New York Dance Festival, Delacorte Theatre, New York City, 1972.
- Sea Change, American Ballet Theatre, Kennedy Center Opera House, Washington, D.C., 1972, then New York City Center, 1973.
- Hidden Rites, Alvin Ailey City Center Dance Theater, New York City Center, 1973.
- Archipelago, 1971,
- The Mooche, 1975,
- Night Creature, 1975,
- Pas de "Duke", 1976,
- Memoria, 1979,
- Phases, 1980
- Landscape, 1981.
Acting and dancing
- (Broadway debut) House of Flowers, Alvin Theatre, New York City, 1954 - Actor and dancer.
- The Carefree Tree, 1955 - Actor and dancer.
- Sing, Man, Sing, 1956 - Actor and dancer.
- Show Boat, Marine Theatre, Jones Beach, New York, 1957 - Actor and dancer.
- Jamaica, Imperial Theatre, New York City, 1957 - Actor and lead dance.
- Call Me By My Rightful Name, One Sheridan Square Theatre, 1961 - Paul.
- Ding Dong Bell, Westport Country Playhouse, 1961 - Negro Political Leader.
- Blackstone Boulevard, Talking to You, produced as double-bill in 2 by Saroyan, East End Theatre, New York City, 1961-62.
- Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, Booth Theatre, 1962 - Clarence Morris.
- Carmen Jones, Theatre in the Park, 1959.
- Jamaica, Music Circus, Lambertville, New Jersey, 1959.
- Dark of the Moon, Lenox Hill Playhouse, 1960.
- (And director) African Holiday (musical), Apollo Theatre, New York City, 1960, then produced at Howard Theatre, Washington, D.C., 1960.
- Feast of Ashes (ballet), Robert Joffrey Company, Teatro San Carlos, Lisbon, Portugal, 1962, then produced at New York City Center, 1971.
- Antony and Cleopatra, Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City, 1966.
- La Strada, first produced at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 1969.
- (With others) Mass, Metropolitan Opera House, 1972, then John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia Academy of Music, both 1972.
- Carmen, Metropolitan Opera, 1972.
- Choreographed ballet, Lord Byron (opera; also see below), Juilliard School of Music, New York City, 1972.
- Four Saints in Three Acts, Piccolo Met, New York City, 1973.
- (With William Hairston) Jerico-Jim Crow, The Sanctuary, New York City, 1964, then Greenwich Mews Theatre, 1968.
- (Film debut) Dancer, Lydia Bailey, Twentieth-Century Fox, 1952
- Dancer, Carmen Jones, Twentieth-Century Fox, 1954
- Choreographer (with others), The Turning Point, Twentieth-Century Fox, 1977.
- Dancer (with Horton Company), Party at Ciro's (also see below), 1954.
- Dancer (with Horton Company), Red Skelton Show (also see below), CBS, 1954.
- (With Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre) Dave Garroway Today Show, NBC, 1959.
- (With Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre) Look Up and Live, CBS, 1962.
- (With Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre) Camera Three, CBS, 1962-63.
- America's Tribute to Bob Hope, NBC, 1988.
- A Duke Named Ellington (also known as American Masters), PBS, 1988.
- The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1988.
- 16th Annual Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, syndicated, 1989.
- Bill Cosby Salutes Alvin Ailey, NBC, 1989.
- The Jack Benny Show, CBS, 1954.
- Red Skelton Show, CBS, 1954.
- Parade, CBC, 1964.
- Alvin Ailey: Memories and Visions, PBS, 1974.
- "Blues Suite", Three by Three, PBS, 1985.
- "Revelations", The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1988.
- "Revelations", Bill Cosby Salutes Alvin Ailey, NBC, 1989.
- "For Bird - With Love", Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Steps Ahead, PBS, 1991.
- Also contributed choreography for Party at Ciro's, 1954.
- Choreographed Ailey Celebrates Ellington, 1974 and 1976, Solo for Mingus, 1979, and Memoria, 1979.
- Blues Suite, Masekela Langage, Streams, and the ballet of Lord Byron have been filmed.
In 2012 Ailey was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people.