VOD film review: Ailey
James R | On 07, Jan 2022
Director: Jamila Wignot
Cast: Alvin Ailey, Robert Battle, Don Martin, George Faison
Dance hasn’t always been taken seriously as an art form by mainstream audiences, but Alvin Ailey is the kind of figure capable of inspiring seriousness, not least because he took it so seriously himself.
An activist as much as an artist, Ailey was born in Texas in 1931, amid the Great Depression. Working in cotton fields with his mother, he ended up going with her to Los Angeles in search of better prospects, and there discovered a passion for dancing. It was 20 years later that he ended up creating his masterpiece, Revelations, an epic dance piece that combined spirituals and grief in a sweeping portrait of slavery through a church-influenced lens.
It’s a stunning piece of choreography and some of this documentary’s best bits are when we glimpse his work in action. Director Jamila Wignot weaves footage of his productions in with fascinating rehearsal recordings, while Ailey himself provides narration, thanks to an interviewed filmed with him back in 1989 before he died from an AIDS-related illness. The result isn’t always the most cohesive journey through his career, and it has its own challenge to overcome that Ailey was a private figure, hiding his homosexuality to the public world. But it’s an absorbing and astute tribute to the auteur’s legacy, one that lives on today. At one point he talks beautifully of how dance is a form of recording history, with bodies in motion passing knowledge on to audiences. It’s a thoughtful, reflective insight that will leave you seeing dance in a whole new light for years to come.