Judith Jamison: Inspiration with staying power

by Dance

Amanda Lynch '10 reflects on Judith Jamison's visit to Dramatic Arts 123: The Ailey Legacy.

On April 28, 2010, Judith Jamison announced that she would pass leadership of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to Robert Battle, marking the end one of the most celebrated artistic directorships in dance history. Twenty-four hours prior, Ms. Jamison had been at Harvard's Lowell Lecture Hall, giving spirited direction to my classmates and me.

As a student enrolled in Dramatic Arts 123 and a lifelong dance lover, I had encountered Ms. Jamison in the news and the history books. Enormously famous, she was not only Mr. Ailey's most acclaimed muse but also an accomplished choreographer in her own right and, perhaps most remarkably, the force behind AAADT's enduring success after his death in 1989. Needless to say, we were a bit apprehensive about her arrival.

She got right down to business upon meeting our class, a bundle of nerves and leotards. After a brief warm-up, Ms. Jamison began teaching us an excerpt from the final section of Revelations, Mr. Ailey's well-known work. Authoritatively, she told us to point to the heavens and survey the earth, recalling gospel churches and the piece's much-loved cultural history with every step. Again and again we ran through the upbeat sequence, and she corrected us every time. It was exhilarating! Though high expectations abound on campus, it is always refreshing to be held to those high standards in dance.

Slowly an audience trickled in, arriving for the main event. Although the afternoon was advertised as a conversation with Ms. Jamison, she was, for the moment, otherwise engaged -- with us. We went on, running through the steps, trying to put a semester's worth of cultivated respect and enthusiasm into a few counts of a dance phrase. She went on teasing the right interpretation out of us. Finally, Ms. Jamison was persuaded to take questions, and we sat down, sweaty and grinning.

While it was instructive to hear about her experiences as a dancer, choreographer and director, it was the first part of the afternoon that really stayed with me. I felt I had begun to understand why AAADT continues to thrive. Without a doubt, the candor, energy, and attention to history that make Ms. Jamison so remarkable as an instructor carry over into her leadership style, and the results speak for themselves.

What will she do next? "You'll just have to see!" she told an audience who could not have known how soon the answer would be making headlines. We were lucky to experience her adventuresome approach to life and art firsthand, and I look forward to following her future.

[Caption: Amanda Lynch '10 and classmates perform for Judith Jamison and the audience at Lowell Hall. Photo by Andreas Randow.]