Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance

Jennifer Dunning, Author Da Capo Press $30 (480p) ISBN 978-0-201-62607-0
Even those who have never attended a modern dance performance can recognize the drama of Alvin Ailey's life. His was the classic ""rags-to-riches"" tale. Born in Rogers, Tex., Ailey (1931-1989) overcame poverty, racism, even an unusual body type (as a chubby youngster, he was nicknamed ""Big Head"") to become a world-renowned choreographer whose racially integrated dance company extolled and preserved black culture. Ailey's life contained its scandalous elements, including drug use and sexual promiscuity. Unfortunately, this well-researched biography--Dunning conducted over 100 interviews with Ailey contemporaries, including his mother--fails to convey the passion of Ailey's life. A dance critic for the New York Times, Dunning relies heavily on her interview material, which sheds little light on the private Ailey. A major portion of the book documents the pressures of running the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, with its endless touring and financial difficulties, while Revelations, Ailey's most popular and lasting work, receives only one short chapter (out of 32). Ailey remains hidden from these pages, but perhaps this isn't surprising for a man who, throughout his life, had, as Dunning herself puts it, the ""ability to slip away... almost before one's eyes."" Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
Paperback - 496 pages - 978-0-306-80825-8
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