• Ailey Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison headlines an #Ailey50 kick-off event December 6
  • Company members visit Boston schools in January 2018, and teach free Revelations community workshops in February 2018
  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to Boston’s Wang Theatre March 22-25, 2018

BOSTON – November 9, 2017 – Celebrity Series of Boston kicks off a four-month salute to the 50th anniversary of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 1968 Boston premiere with a December 6 event that features Ailey Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison and key members of Boston’s arts and dance community. The symposium takes place at John Hancock Hall, where the company made its Boston debut with Jamison as a company member.

“REVELATIONS: The Legacies of Alvin Ailey and Elma Lewis” honors the lasting impact of Ailey’s internationally recognized choreography alongside the enduring influence of Boston educator and social justice advocate Elma Lewis.  Lewis’ passion for student engagement in the arts mirrored Ailey’s mission to keep African-American stories and traditions alive. Both Ailey and Lewis have generations of devotees in Boston, as well as former colleagues – several of whom will join Jamison on stage or appear as featured guests at the event.

“Celebrity Series made bold choices over the decades in presenting artists and ensembles long before they became iconic public names,” said Series President and Executive Director Gary Dunning. “In 1968 my predecessor Walter Pierce took a chance on an all-black American company, led by a relatively unknown choreographer, at a troubled time in Boston. He was continuing in the footsteps of founder Aaron Richmond, who presented Marian Anderson in the 1930s and the great Katherine Dunham in the ‘40s. There is great satisfaction watching artists connect with the audience and the community, especially when that connection grows over time into a treasured tradition. Few reflect that journey better than the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.”


Dunning says the connection Boston audiences and artists found with the Company—particularly after the local premiere of Ailey’s masterpiece “Revelations”—started numerous relationships in town. These relationships grew deeper and broader over five decades, and fostered a tradition for many families, including in Boston’s African-American community, to see the company every time they came to town. Alvin Ailey’s mission was to use the performing arts to celebrate the beauty and humanity of the African American heritage, and other cultures, with dance performances, training, and education and community programs uniting people of all races, ages and backgrounds.

Similarly, Boston-born Elma Lewis’ famed School of Fine Arts, founded in Roxbury in 1950, underscored her commitment to provide artistic opportunities for young Black children in Greater Boston — an effort to improve the world around her, one person at a time. The School had a large concentration in dance, but also taught music and visual arts while enhancing appreciation for the art forms and their pioneers. Lewis founded the National Center of Afro-American Artists the same year the Ailey company premiered in Boston; it remains the largest independent Black cultural arts institution in New England.


  • Judith Jamison joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1965 and quickly became both the choreographer’s muse and the Company’s best-known star before taking the role of Artistic Director from 1989 through 2011.
  • Barry Gaither, a contemporary of Elma Lewis’, and longtime Director and Curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, and a respected art historian, educator and writer.
  • Shaumba­-Yandje Dibinga, Founding Artistic & Executive Director of the Roxbury-based OrigiNation, which serves thousands of students in the arts annually, is home to four professional youth dance companies, and is widely seen as a spiritual successor to the legacies of Lewis and Ailey (at whose New York school Dibinga trained).
  • Jean Appolon, whose company Jean Appolon Expressions advances Haitian cultural traditions to empower young people. Appolon’s choreographic work, which synthesizes Haitian folkloric dance with modern technique, was influenced by training at The Ailey School.
  • Betty Hillmon, a former colleague of Elma Lewis’ who conducts the Boston City-Wide String Orchestra. She has worked for more than 30 years on the annual production of Langston Hughes’ gospel play, “Black Nativity,” which premiered in Boston at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts.

“REVELATIONS: The Legacies of Alvin Ailey and Elma Lewis” will be moderated by Callie Crossley. Crossley hosts WGBH’s “Under the Radar with Callie Crossley,” and appears on its weekly programs “Beat the Press” and “Basic Black.” She is a sought-after public speaker, and a commentator for local and national news broadcasts.


The December symposium is followed early next year by several Celebrity Series-sponsored community events leading up to the Ailey company’s return to Boston March 22-25. In January, Ailey company members will do residencies in several Boston-area schools, conducting master classes and workshops as part of Celebrity Series’ “Artist Connections” series. In February, Celebrity Series’ “Arts for All” initiative presents two free “Revelations Celebration” Community Workshops, where hundreds of Boston residents will gather to learn choreography from Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece on February 24 and 25. Former Ailey member Nasha Thomas will lead the workshops, which will be open to people of all ages and dance abilities. Additional details will be released later.


“Revelations: The Legacies of Alvin Ailey and Elma Lewis” is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required here.

For details on this and all #Ailey50 Celebrity Series of Boston events, visit


  • Celebrity Series of Boston President Gary Dunning is available for interviews about the Symposium and all #Ailey50 events.
  • Photos and bios of symposium participants are available.
  • Contact John Michael Kennedy, or 781-620-1761 for interviews and materials.