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Judith Jamison’s Premiere Performance with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Posted October 4, 2022

It was October 30, 1965, when Judith Jamison made her debut as a dancer with the Ailey company, and the world of dance would forever be transformed. The performance took place at the Harper Theater Dance Festival in Chicago, with Ms. Jamison appearing in African American choreographer Talley Beatty’s Congo Tango Palace, the last section of a longer work (Come and Get the Beauty of it Hot). Ms. Jamison commanded the stage in a sizzling, sultry suite of jazz ballets infused with the flavors of Africa and the Caribbean set in an imaginary ballroom in Spanish Harlem. Her legacy was set with that first performance, and she quickly became the Company’s star dancer.

In 1971, Alvin Ailey choreographed Cry for the statuesque beauty, a solo work dedicated to his mother and a love letter to Black women everywhere. He created other principal roles for Ms. Jamison, such as the exuberant Pas de Duke (1976), which she danced with ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Ms. Jamison performed with Ailey for 15 years. She spent the next nine appearing as a guest artist, starring on Broadway, and creating her own company, The Jamison Project. In 1989, Mr. Ailey called his muse back to take over as Artistic Director, a post she remained at for 21 years. In this prestigious role, she guided the organization to unprecedented heights. That includes the establishment of The Joan Weill Center for Dance—Ailey’s flagship building at 405 West 55th St., the largest complex dedicated to dance in New York City—and executing a multi-city, global tour to celebrate Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 50th anniversary in 2008. She continues to serve the Ailey organization as Artistic Director Emerita. Since her first performance with Ailey 57 years ago, Ms. Jamison’s impact on the Company and the dance world remains unmatched. She has solidified herself as a legend and an inspiration to all.