Theater archives

For Their Lives


In 1948, Donald McKayle began capturing the spirit and energy of African Americans in his modern dances; Alvin Ailey performed in some of them. McKayle’s newest tribute to his people, Danger Run,is among the world premieres in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s five-week City Center season, running through January 4. (Other new works are Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s C# Street—Bb Avenue, and Ronald K. Brown’s Grace.)

Set to Frederic Rzewski’s “4 North American Ballads,” Danger Run portrays African people scattered across the Americas. They reunite to form a pathway, drawing 13 Ailey dancers into the open arms of their ancestors. “I heard Alan Terricciano play the last of Rzewski’s ballads at the American Dance Festival,” says McKayle. “The energy of industrialization coming through in the way the piano was used, and that blues element on which the score was built, just spoke to me immediately.”

McKayle worked in film and television, and studied with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. He conjures Danger Run: “It’s a look at a long history with many grim moments in it. A backdrop rises out of the floor, lifted by two ancestral figures. These figures hold the knowledge of what’s happened, and of what will happen. I think the journey of our people continues, but it’s at a good place at this point.”

McKayle has known Ailey’s company well for decades, watching as current artistic director Judith Jamison grew into the position she’s held for 10 years. “The transition between Alvin and Judith was seamless. Judith has her own vision, but she keeps Alvin’s vision in mind.”