I cried today. I’d like to say this is an uncommon occurrence, but as of late, not so much. Sometimes, it’s the isolation and uncertainty of quarantine that backs up on me. Other times, it’s what feels like an unceasing stream of bad news—like today, when I learned of the non-COVID-related death of a friend—that emotionally overwhelms me.
Sometimes, there’s no reason at all. Sometimes, you just need to cry.
Ironically, today, “Cry” is exactly where I found solace. One of Alvin Ailey’s landmark works, initially made famous by former principal dancer-turned Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison, was revisited by an array of the acclaimed company’s former and current dancers across the globe. In homes, in studios, on rooftops, terraces, backyards, in a park and even in a church, these Ailey women, all dressed in the performance’s iconic white, performed the legendary choreography set to Alice Coltrane’s “Something about John Coltrane,” Laura Nyro’s “Been on a Train,” and The Voices of East Harlem’s “Right on. Be Free.”
“Mr. Ailey dedicated this piece to ‘all black women everywhere—especially our mothers,’” reads the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater website. “In this 3-section solo, the dancer, clad in a white leotard and long ruffled skirt, brings the audience on a journey of bitter sorrow, brutal hardship and ecstatic joy.”
I admittedly cycled through all three emotions viewing the three movements of this epic piece, somehow made that much more evocative by the generations of women performing it.
Of course, the genesis of “Cry” began with Jamison, Ailey’s friend and muse. Discussing the work she helped make famous, she wrote in her 1993 autobiography Dancing Spirit: “Exactly where the woman is going through the ballet’s three sections was never explained to me by Alvin. In my interpretation, she represented those women before her who came from the hardships of slavery, through the pain of losing loved ones, through overcoming extraordinary depressions and tribulations. Coming out of a world of pain and trouble, she has found her way—and triumphed.”
For the first time, Ailey All Access is presenting the 1972 performance by Judith Jamison of Alvin Ailey’s “Cry,” appropriately timed to celebrate mothers during the week of Mother’s Day. Originally filmed for The New York Public Library’s archives, the historic performance has not been shown online before now and will only be available for viewing through May 14 until 6:30 p.m. ET.
Further explaining the story behind, “Cry,” Jamison spoke about the creation of the ballet, saying: “....it was a birthday present for Alvin’s mother. You see, she was coming from Texas to see her son’s company and Alvin knew she’d be celebrating a birthday in New York. In those days, none of us could shop at Tiffany or Bloomingdales, so Alvin decided the nicest present he could give his mother was a ballet. We went into the studio...and began moving to the music...and in a few days...Alvin made an enduring work of art...Cheering audiences still have Alvin’s birthday present to his mother.”