Judith Jamison


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Photo: Andrew Eccles

Profile: Judith Jamison was appointed Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in December 1989 at the request of her mentor, Alvin Ailey.

The Early Years: A native of Philadelphia, she studied with Marion Cuyjet, was discovered by Agnes de Mille and made her New York debut with American Ballet Theatre in 1964. She became a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1965 and danced with the company for 15 years to great acclaim. Recognizing her extraordinary talent, Mr. Ailey created some of his most enduring roles for her, most notably the tour de force solo, Cry.

After leaving the Company in 1980, Ms. Jamison appeared as a guest artist with ballet companies all over the world and starred in the hit Broadway musical Sophisticated Ladies. In 1988, she formed her own company, The Jamison Project; a PBS special depicting her creative process, Judith Jamison: The Dancemaker, aired nationally the same year.

Choreography: As a highly regarded choreographer, Ms. Jamison has created works for many companies. HERE . . .NOW., commissioned for the 2002 Cultural Olympiad, is her most recent ballet. She choreographed Double Exposure for the Lincoln Center Festival in July 2000. Divining (1984), Rift (1991), Riverside (1995), Sweet Release (1996) and Echo: Far From Home (1998) are other major works she has choreographed for the Company. Hymn, her stirring tribute to Mr. Ailey originally choreographed in 1993, has been restaged for the Company’s 45th anniversary season.

Books: Ms. Jamison is a master teacher, lecturer and author. Her autobiography, Dancing Spirit, was edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and published by Doubleday in 1993. She is a noted authority on modern dance and an advocate for education in the arts.

Awards: She is the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, including a prime time Emmy Award and an American Choreography Award for Outstanding Choreography in the PBS “Great Performances: Dance In America” special, A Hymn for Alvin Ailey, and an honorary doctorate from Howard University. In December 1999, Ms. Jamison was presented with the Kennedy Center Honor, recognizing her lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. In 2001 she received the Algur H. Meadows Award from Southern Methodist University and was presented with a National Medal of Arts, the most prestigious award presented to artists in the United States. Ms. Jamison carried the Olympic torch during the relay prior to the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City in 2002. Most recently, she received the “Making a Difference” Award by the NAACP ACT-SO.

The Organization: Today, Judith Jamison presides over a renewed Ailey organization, artistically and fiscally invigorated. Her presence has been a catalyst, propelling the organization in new directions – the development of the Women’s Choreography Initiative; performances at the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Cultural Olympiad; and two unprecedented engagements in South Africa. Ms. Jamison has continued Mr. Ailey’s practice of showcasing the talents of emerging choreographers from within the ranks of the Company.

Education: As Artistic Director of The Ailey School, official school of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, she has helped to implement a multicultural curriculum including salsa and the dances of West Africa and South India. She has also been a guiding force in establishing the B.F.A. program with The Ailey School and Fordham University, which offers a unique combination of world-class dance training and a superior liberal arts education. Following the tradition of Alvin Ailey, Ms. Jamison is dedicated to asserting the prominence of the arts in our culture, spearheading initiatives to bring dance into the community and programs that introduce children to the arts. She remains committed to promoting the significance of the Ailey legacy, dance as a medium for honoring the past, celebrating the present and fearlessly reaching into the future. Currently, she is at the forefront of the campaign for The Ailey’s new home. The state-of-the-art building, scheduled to open in 2004, will be the realization of a long-awaited dream.