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Jamison, Judith

Judith Jamison

1943—

Dancer, choreographer, director

Since 1989 Judith Jamison has been at the helm of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. As the company's artistic director, she has blended her own standards of excellence with the late Ailey's artistic genius, remaining true to his vision of having black dancers perform pieces about African culture and the African-American experience. A protégée and friend of Ailey, Jamison strives to maintain his dance company and preserve his memory while constantly pushing the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater toward new horizons.

In 1965 Ailey saw Jamison perform and asked her to become a member of his dance company. Under Ailey's direction, the five-foot-ten, statuesque dancer was soon equated with an African goddess by reviewers and applauded by audiences from Paris to Moscow to New York. She was a lead performer in Ailey's company from 1967 to 1980, and Ailey choreographed some of his most famous works for her, most notably Cry, a three-part tribute to African-American women, in 1971.

He also encouraged her development as a choreographer during the 1980s. Jamison remained Ailey's friend even when she left his company to perform on Broadway and dance with other companies. When Ailey became ill in the late 1980s, he selected her to succeed him as artistic director of his company, which she did, even though she was in charge of her own dance ensemble at the time.

Jamison's career as a performer lasted almost twenty years; during that time, she learned more than seventy ballets. Aside from appearing primarily with Ailey's company in the United States and around the globe, she performed with the American Ballet Theatre, the Harkness Ballet, and other companies in the United States and overseas. She performed in Africa on a tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department and danced at several presidential inaugurations.

"I'm standing on Alvin's shoulders," Jamison reflected in her autobiography Dancing Spirit (1993); but after his death, she found that "the horizons [had] become broader." Under her direction, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater took on new dancers and varied its programs; in addition, Jamison introduced a choreographic style that is different from Ailey's. As Anna Kisselgoff observed in the New York Times, "The contemporary pieces are cool; the older ones simmer and come to a boil. Miss Jamison has added some new ingredients, but she has … stirred the right brew."

Began Dance Training in Philadelphia

Jamison was born on May 10, 1943, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to John Henry Jamison and Tessie Belle Brown. She credits her parents for the start of her spiritual journey toward the arts and for her pride in her African-American heritage. Though she and her older brother grew up in a racially mixed, blue-collar neighborhood, their parents exposed them to Philadelphia's thriving black community. Aware of their young daughter's restless energy, Jamison's parents enrolled her in the Judimar School of Dance, where she performed in her first dance recital at the age of six.

Jamison went to Judimar for eleven years, while simultaneously attending regular public school. At Judimar, she studied ballet, tap, acrobatics, jazz, and primitive dance with a variety of teachers, including her earliest mentor, Marion Cuyjet. Jamison recalled in Dancing Spirit that Cuyjet "created a world for young black children that encompassed more than dance." Jamison also remembered the impact of seeing a lecture-demonstration given by anthropologist and dancer Pearl Primus. "She had gone to the [African] homeland, which impressed me," Jamison noted in her autobiography.

After graduating from Judimar and Germantown High School, Jamison took a year off before going to college. Then, at the suggestion of Cuyjet, she enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, on a physical education scholarship. Apparently Fisk was too conventional a place for an individualist like Jamison. "During halftime at basketball games I danced on pointe," she wrote in Dancing Spirit. "People thought I was totally nuts…. They didn't know what to make of me." After three semesters she transferred to the Philadelphia Dance Academy, which offered her more opportunity to challenge herself as a dancer.

At a Glance …

Born May 10, 1943, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of John Henry and Tessie Belle Brown Jamison; married Miguel Godreau (a dancer), 1972 (divorced, 1974). Education: Studied dance with Marion Cuyjet, Nadia Chilkovsky, Joan Kerr, Antony Tudor, and others; attended Judimar School of Dance, Fisk University, and the Philadelphia Dance Academy.

Career: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, principal dancer, 1965-80; Jamison Project, founder and artistic director, 1988-91; Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, artistic director, 1989—. Danced with the Harkness Ballet, 1966-67, and appeared as guest artist with the American Ballet Theatre, 1976, Béjart's Ballet of the Twentieth Century, 1979, and others. Appeared on television, including Ailey Celebrates Ellington (CBS), 1974; The Dancemaker: Judith Jamison (PBS), 1988, and others. Starred in Broadway show Sophisticated Ladies, 1980. Choreographed works include: Divining, 1984; Forgotten Time and Read Matthew 11:28, 1989; Hymn, 1993; Reminiscin', 2005, and others.

Memberships: National Endowment for the Arts, board member, 1972-76; American Academy of Arts and Sciences, fellow, 2005—; Jacob's Pillow, board member; Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, advisory board member.

Selected awards: New York State Governor's Arts Award, 1998; Kennedy Center Honor, 1999; Prime Time Emmy Award and American Choreography Award for Outstanding Choreography in the PBS special A Hymn for Alvin Ailey, 2001; National Medal of Arts, 2001; "Making a Difference" Award, NAACP, 2004.

Addresses: Office—Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Joan Weill Center for Dance, 405 West 55th St., New York, NY 10019.

While studying in Philadelphia, Jamison took a class with a guest teacher, the innovative theatrical choreographer Agnes de Mille, who promptly offered her a role in a ballet she was choreographing for the American Ballet Theatre. "I said yes," Jamison wrote in her autobiography. "I knew Agnes de Mille and her history and I knew the Ballet Theatre and their[s]. I had pictures of the dancers all over my bedroom wall." Called The Four Marys, the ballet was performed in 1965 at New York City's Lincoln Center and at the Chicago Opera House. Afterward, Jamison stayed in New York and frequented audition halls, looking for parts. At an unsuccessful audition for a role in a Harry Belafonte television special, she attracted the interest of Ailey, who several days later asked her to join his Dance Theater. Commenting on the years she spent working with Ailey, Jamison revealed in Dancing Spirit, "My relationship with Alvin was based on total awe of his accomplishments as a director, choreographer, and human being."

Joined Ailey's Dance Theater

Jamison first danced with Ailey's company in the ballet Congo Tango Palace, which was performed at the Harper Theatre Dance Festival in Chicago in 1965 and 1966. She traveled continually afterwards, appearing onstage across America, Europe, and Africa as Ailey's company gained worldwide attention. "We did six weeks of one-night stands on our bus tours," Jamison explained. "Alvin would teach us a half-dozen dances in two weeks." When the Ailey company temporarily broke up in Barcelona, Spain, because of lack of funding, Jamison took time off and appeared in the African-French documentary film Batouk in 1967. She rejoined the company later that year and toured with them in Europe.

Jamison's height and strength, coupled with her ability to express a wide range of emotions, made her a preferred dancer; she performed key roles with the Ailey company, as in the famous solo Cry, which premiered in New York City in the spring of 1971. Of that performance Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Times, "For years it has been obvious that Judith Jamison is no ordinary dancer…. Now Alvin Ailey has given his African queen a solo that wonderfully demonstrates what she is and where she is…. Rarely have a choreographer and dancer been in such accord."

In 1980 Jamison left Ailey's company to star with Gregory Hines on Broadway in Sophisticated Ladies. Jamison also appeared with other dance companies and with leading male dancers, including Mikhail Baryshnikov. In addition she choreographed her own ballets for various companies, including that of Maurice Béjart in Paris, had lead roles created for her in the Vienna Opera, and taught dance classes at Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts.

Of her decision to leave the Ailey company, she wrote in her autobiography, "I had finished doing my work dancing with the company. I wanted to try something else." Yet Jamison's ties to Ailey were not completely severed when she went out on her own. Prior to Ailey's death, Jamison explained to Olga Maynard in Judith Jamison: Aspects of a Dancer, "Alvin and I have this love-hate thing, a relationship that I think we both appreciate, if neither of us truly understands it." In 1984 she choreographed her first piece, Divining, at Ailey's suggestion, and periodically returned to perform an occasional piece with the company.

Assumed Leadership of the Ailey Company

In 1988 she began auditioning dancers for her own troupe, the Jamison Project, which was based in Philadelphia and Detroit. Two premiere dances were created for the project, Forgotten Time and Read Matthew 11:28. When the company first performed them in Washington, D.C., Suzanne Levy observed in the Washington Post, "These 12 dancers have been coached by Jamison to give their all. Bodies are flung with fierce disregard for safety, limbs are stretched to improbable limits, stops are made with jolting abruptness, the movement is impossibly fast, yet, they do it, and they make it look exhilarating rather than dangerous." Jamison planned to give tours, workshops, seminars, and lecture-demonstrations in each city. Before her project blossomed, however, Ailey died, and Jamison took up her position as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She managed both companies for a time, but eventually hers merged with Ailey's.

Jamison's choreography drew both praise and criticism in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1985 Dance Magazine called her "first foray into choreography, Divining, a deceptively simple exercise in strong, grounded movement to a live percussion score…. A fusion of traditional African motifs with the repetitive, simplified focus of post-modern dance, the work has more to it than meets the eye." At the opposite pole, New York magazine termed it "a flimsy affair," adding, "The piece doesn't go on anywhere near long enough to build the hypnotic power it lays claim to."

When the premiere of Jamison's 1989 work Forgotten Time was performed at New York's Joyce Theater, Jack Anderson wrote in the New York Times, "Ms. Jamison was at her choreographic best…. The work, for her full company, was notable for the beauty of its groupings and for the way it appeared to take place in some mysterious, transcendent realm." However, he added that Jamison was "not always able to organize [her sequences] into choreographic structures" and suggested that "judicious editing would make some of her works even more striking than they now are."

During the winter 1993-94 season of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Jamison presented a new work, Hymn, set to a monologue created by actor/writer Anna Deavere Smith. About the choreography of the piece, which was performed at the company's thirty-fifth anniversary gala at City Center in New York City, Deborah Jowitt wrote in the Village Voice, "Jamison can make the whole stage boil with individual gestures or lock into exuberant, spine-rippling unison. She uses walking to reflect Ailey's words about dance as a spiritual journey or interpolates familiar Ailey images … into her own solid patterns." Kisselgoff observed in the New York Times, "Hymn threatened to be all talk and little dance…. Yet, gradually and dramatically, [it] progressed into a convincing artistic statement of its own…. Ms. Jamison has choreographed pungent solos [and] captures the essence of some outstanding dancers."

Furthered Company's Artistic and Financial Success

While she continued to choreograph new works, Jamison served a more important role as a catalyst for the dance theater's artistic and educational achievements, its renewed financial stability, and its role as a global popularizer of the art form. Jamison championed the development of the Women's Choreography Initiative and helped establish a multicultural curriculum at the Ailey School, introducing dance from India and West Africa. In 1998 she helped launch a bachelor of fine arts program in conjunction with Fordham University, which offered dance training combined with a liberal arts education. A savvy businesswoman, Jamison helped turn a $1 million deficit into a $25 million endowment while building the Ailey organization's first permanent home at a cost of $54 million. The largest building in the United States devoted exclusively to dance, the space spreads over eight floors and encompasses a 250-seat theater, twelve studios, a physical therapy room, a costume shop, administrative offices, and media center. The Ailey group performed at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and the 2002 Olympic Arts Festival in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Jamison carried the torch as part of the preevent relay.

Under Jamison's direction the company performs around the world on what Sarah Kaufman of the Washington Post called "a numbing year-round schedule." Their travels have included a historic residency in South Africa after the country abolished its policy of apartheid; a performance at the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia; and an appearance at the Les étés de la danse de Paris festival in France. In a much-quoted remark, dance critic Kisselgoff of the New York Times commented that the Ailey dance company's "phenomenal popularity is unmatched by any other company in the world." By 2008 the Ailey organization estimated that its performances had been seen by approximately twenty-one million people in seventy-one countries; their promotional materials maintained, accurately, that "the company has earned a reputation as one of the most acclaimed international ambassadors of American culture, promoting the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience and the preservation and enrichment of the American modern dance." In February of 2008 Jamison announced that she would step down from her position as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011. She planned to remain associated with the troupe as director emerita.

Jamison has been showered with a seemingly endless succession of awards, including a Paul Robeson Award, an American Choreography Award, an Emmy Award, Kennedy Center Honors for her contributions to American culture, a National Medal of Arts, and honorary doctorates from Harvard and Howard Universities. In 2005 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In her autobiography, Dancing Spirit, Jamison summed up her philosophy about what it means to be a dancer: "You have to be desperate, as though you were catching your breath…. You want to eat life, so you have to be famished all the time, not physically, but in wanting to know and in wanting to absorb and in exploring and stepping out over the edge, sometimes by yourself…. Dance is bigger than the physical body…. When you extend your arm, it doesn't stop at the end of your fingers, because you're dancing bigger than that; you're dancing spirit. Take a chance. Reach out. Go further than you've ever gone before."

Selected writings

Books

(With Howard Kaplan) Dancing Spirit, Doubleday, 1993.

Sources

Books

Clarke, Mary, and Clement Crisp, The History of Dance, Crown, 1981, p. 226.

Maynard, Olga, Judith Jamison: Aspects of a Dancer, Doubleday, 1982.

Periodicals

Back Stage East, December 14, 2006, p. 21.

Christian Science Monitor, March 25, 2005, p. 11.

Dance Magazine, March 1985; May 1991.

Detroit Free Press, March 18, 1990.

Detroit News, March 17, 1990.

Emerge, December/January 1994, p. 16.

Newsweek, March 16, 1981, p. 103; September 18, 1989.

New York, March 16, 1981, p. 43; February 12, 1990, p. 59.

New York Daily News, March 16, 1981.

New York Post, December 20, 1993; February 19, 2008, p. 37.

New York Times, November 15, 1988; November 17, 1988; December 20, 1989; January 25, 1990, p. C18; December 2, 1990; December 23, 1990; December 10, 1993; December 2, 2007; February 29, 2008.

Publishers Weekly, August 9, 1993; October 18, 1993, p. 59.

Time, March 16, 1981.

Village Voice, December 21, 1993.

Washington Post, May 14, 1990, p. B7; February 21, 2008, p. C04.

—Alison Carb Sussman and Paula Kepos

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Jamison, Judith 1943–

Judith Jamison 1943

Dance choreographer, artistic director

At a Glance

Parents Nurtured Jamisons Dancing Spirit

Recruited by Agnes de Mille, then Alvin Ailey

Became Top Dancer in Ailey Troupe

Assumed Directorship of Aileys Dance Theater

Sources

Since 1989 Judith Jamison has been at the helm of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. As the companys artistic director, she has blended her own standards of excellence with the late Aileys artistic genius, remaining true to his vision of having black dancers perform pieces about African culture and the African American experience. A protégée and friend of Ailey, Jamison strives to maintain his dance company and preserve his memory. Yet, she goes fartherchallenging her dancers and exploring innovations in modern dance.

People ask me, Whats different? What are the changes youve made? she revealed in an interview with Jennifer Dunning for the New York Times. Its an evolving situation. I want to sustain this company and not have it be a museum piece. I want to challenge the dancers and the audiences with as much diversity as possible. In another Times article, Anna Kisselgoff observed, There are signs that Miss Jamison wants to see the repertory tilt further toward formally oriented works that explore new ways of moving, to draw closer to what is happening elsewhere in modem dance.

In 1965 Ailey discovered Jamison and asked her to become a member of his dance company. Always hungry to perform and to extend herself past her physical limits, the five-foot-ten, statuesque dancer was soon equated with an African goddess and applauded by audiences from Paris to Moscow to New York. She was a lead performer in Aileys company from 1967 to 1980, and Ailey choreographed some of his most famous works for her, most notably his dance Cry.

He also encouraged her development as a choreographer during the 1980s. Jamison remained Aileys friend even when she left his company to become a star on Broadway and dance with other companies. When Ailey became ill in late 1980s, he selected her to succeed him as artistic director of his company, which she did, even though she was in charge of her own budding dance troupe at the time.

Jamisons dance career lasted almost 20 years; during that time, she learned more than 70 ballets. Aside from appearing primarily with Aileys company in the United States and around the globe, she guest performed with the

At a Glance

Born May 10, 1943, In Philadelphia, PA; daughter of John Henry and Tessie Belle Brown Jamison; married and divorced Miguel Godreau (a dancer), 1972. Education: Studied dance with Marion Cuyjet Nadia Chilkovsky, Joan Kerr, Antony Tudor, and others; attended Judimor School of Dance, Fisk University, and the Philadelphia Dance Academy.

Dancer, choreographer, aristic director. First danced professionally in Agnes de Milles Four Marys, American Ballet Theatre, 1965; dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York, 196560; became lead dancer and toured in United States, Europe, and Africa; choreographed pieces for Ailey troupe, 1984; director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, 1989.

Performed as guest with the Harkness Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, and Dallas Ballet; had lead roles created for her in the Vienna Opera and elsewhere; choreographed her own ballets for various companies, including that of Maurice Bejart in Paris; starred on Broadway in Sophisticated Ladies; established her own dance troupe, the Jamison Project, in Philadelphia and Detroit. Choreographed works include Divining and Just Call Me Dance, both 1984; Time Out and Time In, both 1986; Into the Life, 1987; Tease. 1988; forgotten Time and Read Matthew 11:28, both 1989; Rift, 1991; and Hymn, 1993. Author, with Howard Kaplan, of Dancing Spirit, 1993.

Awards: Dance Magazine annual citation, 1972; Key to the City of New York, 1976; distinguished service award from Harvard University, 1982, and from the mayor of New York City, 1982; Philadelphia Arts Alliance Award; Candace Award, National Coalition of 100 Black Women; several honorary degrees.

Addresses: Office Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, 211 West 61st St., 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10023.

American Ballet Theatre, the Harkness Ballet, and other companies in the United States and overseas. She also went on tour in Africa with the U.S. State Department as a sponsor and danced at several presidential inaugurations.

Im standing on Alvins shoulders, Jamison reflected in her 1993 autobiography Dancing Spirit; but after his death, she found that the horizons [had] become broader. Under her direction, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has taken on new dancers and varied its programs; in addition, Jamison has introduced a choreographic style that is different from Aileys. As Kisselgoff observed in the New York Times, The contemporary pieces are cool; the older ones simmer and come to a boil. Miss Jamison has added some new ingredients, but she has, so far, stirred the right brew.

Parents Nurtured Jamisons Dancing Spirit

Jamison was born on May 10, 1943, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to John Henry Jamison and Tessie Belle Brown. She credits her parents for the start of her spiritual journey toward the arts and for her pride in her African American heritage. Though she and her older brother grew up in a racially mixed, blue-collar neighborhood, their parents exposed them to Philadelphias thriving black community. Aware of their daughters restless energy from a very early age, Jamisons parents enrolled her in the Judimar School of Dance, where she gave her first dance recital at the age of six.

Jamison went to Judimar for 11 years, while simultaneously attending regular public school. At Judimar, she studied ballet, tap, acrobatics, jazz, and primitive dance with a variety of teachers, including her earliest mentor, Marion Cuyjet. Jamison recalled in Dancing Spirit that Cuyjet created a world for young black children that encompassed more than dance. Jamison also remembered the impact of seeing a lecture-demonstration given by anthropologist and dancer Pearl Primus. She had gone to the [African] homeland, which impressed me, Jamison noted in her autobiography.

After graduating from Judimar and Germantown High School, Jamison took a year off before going to college. Then, at the suggestion of Cuyjet, she enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, on a physical education scholarship. But apparently Fisk was too conventional a place for an individualist like Jamison. During halftime at basketball games I danced on pointe, she wrote in Dancing Spirit. People thought I was totally nuts. They didnt know what to make of me. After three semesters, she transferred to the Philadelphia Dance Academy, which offered her more opportunity to challenge herself as a dancer.

Recruited by Agnes de Mille, then Alvin Ailey

While studying in Philadelphia, Jamison took a class with a guest teacher, choreographer Agnes de Mille, who promptly offered her a role in a ballet she was choreographing for the American Ballet Theatre. I said yes, Jamison wrote in her autobiography. I knew Agnes de Mille and her history and I knew the Ballet Theatre and their[s]. I had pictures of the dancers all over my bedroom wall. Called The Four Marys, the ballet was performed in 1965 at New York Citys Lincoln Center and at the Chicago Opera House. Afterward, Jamison stayed in New York and frequented audition halls, looking for parts. At an unsuccessful audition for a role in a Harry Belafonte television special, she attracted the interest of Alvin Ailey, who several days later asked her to join his Dance Theater. Commenting on the years she spent working with Ailey, she revealed in Dancing Spirit, My relationship with Alvin was based on total awe of his accomplishments as a director, choreographer, and human being.

Jamison first danced with Aileys company in the ballet Congo Tango Palace, which was performed at the Harper Theatre Dance Festival in Chicago in 1965 and 1966. She traveled continually afterwards, appearing onstage across America, Europe, and Africa as Aileys company gained worldwide attention. We did six weeks of one-night stands on our bus tours, Jamison explained. Alvin would teach us a half-dozen dances in two weeks. When the Ailey company temporarily broke up in Barcelona, Spain, because of lack of funding, Jamison took time off and appeared in a Senegalese movie. She rejoined the company later in 1967 and went on tour with them in Europe.

Became Top Dancer in Ailey Troupe

Jamisons height and strength, coupled with her ability to express a wide range of emotions, made her a preferred dancer; she performed key roles with the Ailey company, as in the famous solo Cry, which premiered in New York in the spring of 1971. Of that performance Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Times, For years it has been obvious that Judith Jamison is no ordinary dancer. Now Alvin Ailey has given his African queen a solo that wonderfully demonstrates what she is and where she is. Rarely have a choreographer and dancer been in such accord.

In 1980 Jamison left Aileys troupe to star with Gregory Hines on Broadway in Sophisticated Ladies. Jamison also appeared with other dance companies and with leading male dancers, including Mikhail Baryshnikov. In addition she choreographed her own ballets for various companies, including that of Maurice Bejart in Paris, had lead roles created for her in the Vienna Opera, and taught dance classes at Jacobs Pillow in Massachusetts.

Of her decision to leave the Ailey troupe, she wrote in her autobiography, I had finished doing my work dancing with the company. I wanted to try something else. Yet Jamisons ties to Ailey were not completely severed when she went out on her own. Prior to Aileys death, Jamison explained to Olga Maynard in Aspects of a Dancer, Alvin and I have this love-hate thing, a relationship that I think we both appreciate, if neither of us truly understands it. In 1984 she choreographed her first piece, Divining, at Aileys suggestion, and periodically returned to perform an occasional piece with the company.

Assumed Directorship of Aileys Dance Theater

In 1988 she began auditioning dancers for her own troupe, the Jamison Project, which was based in Philadelphia and Detroit. Two premiere dances were created for the project, Forgotten Time and Read Matthew 11:28. When the company first performed them in Washington, D.C., Suzanne Levy observed in the Washington Post, These 12 dancers have been coached by Jamison to give their all. Bodies are flung with fierce disregard for safety, limbs are stretched to improbable limits, stops are made with jolting abruptness, the movement is impossibly fast, yet, they do it, and they make it look exhilarating rather than dangerous. Jamison planned to give tours, workshops, seminars, and lecture-demonstrations in each city. But before her project blossomed, Ailey died, and Jamison took up her position as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She managed both companies for a time, but eventually hers merged with Aileys.

Jamisons choreography has drawn both praise and criticism throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1985 Dance Magazine called her first foray into choreography, Divining, a deceptively simple exercise in strong, grounded movement to a live percussion score. A fusion of traditional African motifs with the repetitive, simplified focus of post-modem dance, the work has more to it than meets the eye. At the opposite pole, New York magazine termed it a flimsy affair, adding, The piece doesnt go on anywhere near long enough to build the hypnotic power it lays claim to.

When the premiere of Jamisons 1989 work Forgotten Time was performed at New Yorks Joyce Theater, Jack Anderson wrote in the New York Times, Ms. Jamison was at her choreographic best. The work, for her full company, was notable for the beauty of its groupings and for the way it appeared to take place in some mysterious, transcendent realm. However, he added that Jamison was not always able to organize [her sequences] into choreographic structures and suggested that judicious editing would make some of her works even more striking than they now are.

During the 1993-1994 winter performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Jamison presented a new work, Hymn, set to a monologue created by actor/writer Anna Deavere Smith. About the choreography of the piece, which was performed at the companys 35th anniversary gala at City Center in New York City, Deborah Jowitt wrote in the Village Voice, Jamison can make the whole stage boil with individual gestures or lock into exuberant, spine-rippling unison. She uses walking to reflect Aileys words about dance as a spiritual journey or interpolates familiar Ailey images into her own solid patterns. Anna Kisselgoff observed in the New York Times, Hymn threatened to be all talk and little dance. Yet, gradually and dramatically, [it] progressed into a convincing artistic statement of its own. Ms. Jamison has choreographed pungent solos [and] captures the essence of some outstanding dancers.

In her autobiography, Dancing Spirit, Jamison summed up her philosophy about what it means to be a dancer: You have to be desperate, as though you were catching your breath. You want to eat life, so you have to be famished all the time, not physically, but in wanting to know and in wanting to absorb and in exploring and stepping out over the edge, sometimes by yourself. Dance is bigger than the physical body. When you extend your arm, it doesnt stop at the end of your fingers, because youre dancing bigger than that; youre dancing spirit. Take a chance. Reach out. Go further than youve ever gone before.

Sources

Books

Clarke, Mary, and Clement Crisp, The History of Dance, Crown, 1981, p. 226.

Jamison, Judith, and Howard Kaplan, Dancing Spirit, Doubleday, 1993.

Maynard, Olga, Aspects of a Dancer, 1982.

Periodicals

Dance Magazine, March 1985; May 1991.

Detroit Free Press, March 18, 1990.

Detroit News, March 17, 1990.

Emerge, December/January 1994, p. 16.

Newsweek, March 16, 1981, p. 103; September 18, 1989.

New York, March 16, 1981, p. 43; February 12, 1990, p. 59.

New York Daily News, March 16, 1981.

New York Post, December 20, 1993.

New York Times, November 15, 1988; November 17, 1988; December 20, 1989; January 25, 1990, p. C18; December 2, 1990; December 23, 1990; December 10, 1993.

Publishers Weekly, August 9, 1993; October 18, 1993, p. 59.

Time, March 16, 1981.

Village Voice, December 21, 1993.

Washington Post, May 14, 1990, p. B7.

Alison Carb Sussman

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"Jamison, Judith 1943–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 29 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Jamison, Judith 1943–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved May 29, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jamison-judith-1943

Jamison, Judith

Judith Jamison

Tall, powerful, and charismatic, Judith Jamison (born 1944) was a featured dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT) from the late 1960s through the 1980s. She took over as artistic director of the company following Ailey's death in 1989 and has become generally recognized as one of the most important figures in modern American dance.

One of Ailey's most famous dance pieces, "Cry," was created with Jamison in mind. That dance evoked the condition of African-American women, and Jamison and Ailey formed something of a creative partnership for many years as she realized his choreographic visions. Yet Jamison was also a versatile dancer who was open to numerous influences, and after Ailey's death she was instrumental in maintaining the variety and universality of appeal that were the AAADT's trademarks.

Attended Famed Black Church

Born May 10, 1944, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Jamison grew up, she told Newsweek, in "a household of people who sang and played the piano. So I came from a disciplined house. You don't arrive to places late, you are polite, you do unto others as you would have them do to you." Her mother was a teacher, her father a sheet-metal worker and part-time musician who supported his daughter's passion for dance because he thought it might help her work off the energy that built up as a result of her generally hyperactive nature. Jamison started dance lessons at age six at the Judimar School of Dance in Philadelphia. She also took piano lessons from her father and played the violin well enough to join a local orchestra in her teens. One other influence was the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, where Jamison remained a frequent attendee even after she rose to the top of the dance world. Founded by breakaway Methodist preacher Richard Allen in 1787, Mother Bethel was a historic institution rich in African-American culture and history.

Jamison got the attention of teachers and had top-flight teachers from the start, winning a place in a class taught by top choreographer Anthony Tudor when she was ten. As a young woman Jamison immersed herself in the arts, going to museums and attending operas and plays, but dance was her greatest passion. African-American dancers were still rare at the time, but the walls of Jamison's bedroom were festooned with pictures of ballerinas and modern dancers of all backgrounds. She sought out a broad variety of dance training that would benefit her later on, focusing on classical ballet but also studying tap dancing, Afro-Caribbean and jazz dance, modern dance, and acrobatics. She appeared in the role of Myrtha in the French ballet Giselle when she was 15.

Graduating from high school two years later, Jamison was at first seduced by the lure of professional objectives. She enrolled at Fisk University in Tennessee, intending to study psychology, but she lasted only three semesters. Returning home, she enrolled at the Philadelphia Dance Academy (now part of the University of the Arts).

Taking a wide variety of courses that included one in the highly complex system of dance notation, Jamison once again got noticed. When Agnes de Mille, a highly popular choreographer who was the niece of film impresario Cecil B. DeMille, taught a master class at the school, she was impressed by Jamison's dancing and invited her to take a role in a new ballet to be staged at New York's Lincoln Center. That did not immediately launch Jamison's career; she worked as an amusement-park ride operator at the 1964 New York World's Fair before getting her next big break. That came when she auditioned for a dance part in a television special starring actor Harry Belafonte. The audition did not go well. "I was never very good at picking up that one-two-three showgirl stuff," Jamison recalled to Octavio Roca of the San Francisco Chronicle. But Ailey, who was looking on, saw in Jamison a dancer who could realize his powerful choreographic visions of African-American life.

Traveled to Africa

Almost immediately, Jamison began to tour with Ailey's company, traveling in 1966 to Europe and then to the World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal. The experience was an eye-opener for Jamison. "Everybody was there—from [poet] Langston Hughes to [choreographer] Katherine Dunham to [bandleader] Duke Ellington to [Senegalese] President Senghor," she told Suki John of Dance Magazine. "There were dance companies from all over the diaspora." Jamison danced with the Harkness Ballet while the still struggling AAADT took a break from performing, but she signed on for good when it got a new lease on life in 1967. Before long, Jamison was taking starring roles with the company. She modestly attributed that to her height; at five feet, ten inches tall, with what she described to Judith Mackrell of England's Guardian newspaper as "an inseam that went on forever," she stood out from a sea of petite dancers and was a natural for solo roles. But there was more to it than that.

Ailey's famous dances, such as the Ellington-inspired Pas de Duke, Blues Suite, and Revelation (which Jamison began learning the day she joined the AAADT), came alive anew when Jamison danced them. In Pas de Duke, Jamison often appeared in a duet with ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov. Revelation, drawing on the religious life of his family in rural Texas during his childhood, was Ailey's most famous piece, and Jamison brought a power and spirituality to the work that made her an audience favorite. In 1969, Jamison joined the AAADT as it became the first American dance company in decades to tour the Soviet Union and was greeted with enormous ovations there.

The creative relationship between Jamison and Ailey reached a new level with Cry (1971), a solo piece the choreographer created for Jamison. "That dance—15 minutes of movement—embodied 400 years of Black women's pain, passion, and perseverance, and elevated Judith Jamison to the ranks of modern ballet superstardom," noted Asha Bandele of Essence. Cry became Jamison's trademark, but after she took the reins at the AAADT she encouraged younger dancers to bring their own interpretations to the work rather than trying to duplicate her style.

In 1972 Jamison won the Dance Magazine Award, a prestigious annual prize, and she was named by President Richard Nixon as an advisor to the National Council on the Arts. She married fellow Ailey dancer Miguel Godreau that year, but the marriage ended in divorce. The 1970s were a growth period for American dance, and Jamison constantly traveled, gave interviews, and was featured in new productions. Ailey was unusually open to featuring the work of choreographers other than himself, and Jamison appeared in dances by Talley Beatty and other rising creative figures.

Starred in Sophisticated Ladies

In 1980, Jamison decided to strike out on her own. Taking a starring role in the Broadway musical Sophisticated Ladies, she performed as a soloist with other ballet companies and also returned to the Ailey troupe. With Ailey's support, she began to develop her own skills as a choreographer. Two of her works, 1984's Divining and 1988's Tease, were performed by Ailey's organization, and other companies as far afield as Caracas, Venezuela, and Brussels, Belgium, also mounted productions of her works. In 1988 she founded a dance company of her own, the Judith Jamison Project.

Her plans took a sharp turn, however, when Ailey revealed to her, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a tour, that he was seriously ill. "We were in St. Louis when Alvin decided to tell me that he wasn't well, and that he wanted me to take over the company," Jamison recalled to Joy Duckett Cain of Essence. "He's asking me, and I'm going, 'Oh, yes, sure,' without batting an eye—and without thinking of just how tremendous the responsibility was." Jamison was at Ailey's bedside when he became a casualty of the AIDS epidemic in December of 1989.

The shift from dancer and choreographer to artistic director was challenging for Jamison—and not because it was hard for her to give up dancing. Looking at videotapes of her performances, she realized that she had been near the end of her performing career. Learning the art of administration, however, was a new stage in Jamison's career as she brought in dancers from her own troupe to replace some Ailey stalwarts. Jamison faced pressures from advisers who wanted her to take the company in new directions or, conversely, maintain its repertory unchanged as a shrine to Ailey's career. She carefully steered a middle course.

One aspect of Ailey's legacy that Jamison maintained was its diversity and its aspiration toward universal appeal. Assistant director Masazumi Chaya was of Japanese background, and as the company's repertory grew under Jamison, dancers attempted works with a variety of subject matter. "I've had angry letters from people who felt that all our dancers should be Black," Jamison told Bandele. "But the company is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. And while we're here to celebrate the Black experience, we're not here to be exclusionary about who can do that with us. Being inclusive is part of our African tradition."

Troupe Appeared in American Express Commercial

Indeed, Jamison sometimes gave the AAADT a populist orientation. American young people who were unable to name any other dance company became familiar with the AAADT after an American Express commercial featuring the company was broadcast on television during the Academy Awards ceremony. "To get young people to a live concert, we first must go where they are the most: in front of computers and televisions," Jamison pointed out to Suki John of Dance Magazine. Under Jamison's astute financial leader ship, the company prospered. She presided over an entire Manhattan building that was home to two Ailey companies, 200 classes a week, and numerous other projects and workshops.

By the early 2000s, Judith Jamison was an icon of American dance. Among her long list of awards was a Kennedy Center Honor in 1999, where she received a prize that Ailey himself had been awarded earlier, and where she shared a stage with another idol, singer Stevie Wonder. President George W. Bush awarded National Medals of the Arts to her and to the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation in 2001, marking the first time the medal had gone to a dance organization. She continued to nurture young dancers and to exert positive force on the American arts scene. Jamison, who often said that if she had not become a dancer her second choice of career would have been airline pilot, surveyed the various sectors of the Ailey empire and remarked to John that "I'm a pilot at heart, and this is a great ship to be piloting."

Books

Jamison, Judith, with Howard Kaplan, Dancing Spirit: An Autobiography, Doubleday, 1993.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed., Notable Black American Women, Book 1 Gale, 1992.

Periodicals

Daily News (Los Angeles), March 13, 2001.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), June 8, 2002.

Dance Magazine, December 1999.

Essence, June 1998; August 2003.

Guardian (London, England), September 6, 2001.

Newsweek, October 24, 2005.

Philadelphia Inquirer, May 10, 2004.

San Francisco Chronicle, February 10, 2002.

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Jamison, Judith

Judith Jamison (jā´məsən), 1944–, American dancer and choreographer, b. Philadelphia. She studied ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance, and made her debut with the American Ballet Theatre in 1964. She is best known for her work with Alvin Ailey's company, where she danced from 1965 to 1980. Tall, elegant, and long-limbed, with a leonine grace, she performed in a sensitive yet sinuous style that became emblematic of the company. Among the many parts choreographed for her by Ailey were the solo in Cry (1971) and featured roles in Revelations (1960), The Lark Ascending (1972), and The Mooch (1975). After Ailey's death in 1989, Jamison became (1990) the director of his company. She also has choreographed a number of works for the company, including Divining (1984), Forgotten Time (1989), Hymn (1993), Echo: Far from Home (1998), and Double Exposure (2000).

See her autobiography (with H. Kaplan), Dancing Spirit (1993).

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