Gary Dunning, president and executive director of the Celebrity Series of Boston, talks about 50 years of presenting Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Beantown
For the past half-century, the iconic, New York-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has made annual appearances in Boston, performing at the invitation of the Celebrity Series of Boston. It all started, explains Celebrity Series president and executive director Gary Dunning, when his predecessor Walter Pierce made “a brave and risky statement…to book an American company lead by a black choreographer in 1968.”
Dunning, who first saw the company for himself in the early ’70s, is not surprised that Ailey’s early Boston performances of its signature piece, Revelations, were well-received. “I’ve talked to people who were there at that first performance, who said that Ailey’s Revelations was magic. It captured everyone’s mind and heart. People realized this was a special company, so [the Celebrity Series] brought them back, and the Boston audience started developing a deep connection with this company that has only grown over the decades.”
On March 22–25, Ailey dancers present a 50th anniversary performance at the Boch Center’s Wang Theatre after a winter of special, community-focused activities, including dance workshops and a symposium in Boston.
This anniversary does more than highlight Ailey’s accomplishments, however; it shines a spotlight on the importance of the Celebrity Series itself. Dunning, who first encountered it while on tour as the company manager of American Ballet Theatre, explains that the series enriches Boston by bringing performers here from around the world, enabling locals and visitors to see great artists who otherwise tour in London, Paris or Shanghai. In addition, “Celebrity Series is a great way to be introduced to Boston,” says Dunning. “I get to work with many concert halls…and many community partners that introduced me to different neighborhoods, organizations and folks who are trying to make a difference in the city.”
The events and celebrations surrounding Ailey’s 50th year of performing in Boston highlight the legacy of an esteemed American choreographer, alongside the cultural wealth that the Celebrity Series brings to Boston. Dunning can’t wait. “The joy of this performance is so infectious that, no matter what mood you are in, you’re going to walk away smiling and feeling more joyful than at the start—no doubt about it.”