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Alvin Ailey: A Life In Dance Paperback – March 22, 1998


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Alvin Ailey: A Life In Dance + Dancing Revelations: Alvin Ailey's Embodiment of African American Culture + An Evening with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press ed edition (March 22, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306808250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306808258
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #579,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The great African-American choreographer Alvin Ailey created breathtaking modern dances,which changed the boundaries of the art form, and founded a school and a dance company to maintain the tradition. In this sensitive but searing biography, Jennifer Dunning, a dance critic with the New York Times, reveals the terrible personal pain that Ailey hid from his public. The life of a dancer and choreographer makes enormous physical demands, and the kind of adulation Ailey received as a young man takes a toll on the spirit. Ailey, a manic depressive full of self-doubt, retreated to alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity for self-affirmation off the stage. He lived a life of awful self-destruction, and then died of AIDS-related causes at age 58. Dunning captures the greatness and the agony of Ailey's creative spirit. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 12, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This is a thorough, often riveting and eminently readable book about a trailblazer of American dance. A lively, affectionate and intimate portrait of this in every respect strongly gifted man who created the American Dance Theater.
The dance critic and reporter of the New York
Times, Jennifer Dunning has written a compelling book about this multifarious figure who wrote by himself a full chapter of American cultural history. For the first time, the life and work of Alvin Ailey, one of the most beloved figures in modern dance, is entertainingly told, taking into account the often adverse personal and social circumstances he had to contend with for the 58 years of his life. When Alvin was born in Southeast Texas in 1931, public facilities were segregated, white children went to school and black children picked cotton. Yet he managed to overcome these social handicaps because " he was tremendously bright-terribly intelligent-intuitive-sharp". He was not ill at ease physically either:"beautiful, strong, wonderful smile with a perfect body and with the technique of dance well welded into his system".Homosexuality dit not simplify his life, as were episodes of manic depression and substance abuse.Alvin Ailey was a splendid artist, and his unique merits and talents are all the more appreciable because he had constantly to wrestle with a lot of heavy burdens, even when they were often self-inflicted. A doctoral thesis was written as early as 1973 about the life and works of this creator of the highest caliber, but we had to wait till now to have this enjoyable, splendidly written, sumptuously printed and well-illustrated book.I recommend strongly this "Life in Dance".
Jan Mortelmans.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Carter on October 14, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had the unique pleasure of being awarded a dance scholarship to the Ailey School when it was located in the Minskoff Theater Builidng on 44th st and Broadway in New York.This was back in the early 1980's. This training has stayed with me unitl this day, almost 25 years later. Alvin Ailey would drop by the classes from time to time to see what was going on with the students. Unpretentious and down to earth, he was a sight to behold. This book brought those memories back to me in vivid detail.
Mr. Ailey has his demons for sure. His vision of a multi-racial dance company, which performed to not only the music and interpretations of Mr. Ailey's experience of being an African American gay male in this country, yet also the experience of what it meant to be truly human; warts and all.
In the words of William Shakespeare, taken from the play MacBeth, "Heaven rest him now". Bravo, Alvin Ailey.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Schreiber on January 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
Jennifer Dunning has written a stunning portrait of Ailey in this not-so-little book. And who better to write it than the master reviewer of the New York Times herself?

There's not stone left unturned here, and Dunning presents even the basest part of Ailey's life in a palatible way. She doesn't shy away from his sexual escapades or his grimacing-making comments, yet he's not presented as some wacked-out artist.

Those familiar with Ailey's works will want to read this book, if you haven't already, and those not familiar will find it a good place to start. Ailey's works are some of the most powerful in the dance canon, and Dunning's work is one of the most powerful in the literary one. I'd give this ten stars if I could.

One problem: you won't be able to put this down, that's how good it is, so make plenty of time for reading.
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By Frances Bucher on August 12, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Beautiful pictures! A wonderful book for anyone who likes the world of dancers!
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