I had the good fortune to first work with the Alvin Ailey company as an 18 year old scholarship student at Jacob’s Pillow. I was very taken with his work, it could reach people in visceral ways. Alvin’s dancing was spectacular, sensual, almost animal -like. The Ailey company returned many times to the Pillow in the 5 years that I was there. Among the company members then were legendary dancers like Carmen de Lavallade, Thelma Hill, and Minnie Marshall. By the second year, I became the official Stage Manager at Jacob’s Pillow.
Some years later, in 1968, I toured with the Ailey company as a stage manager, along with lighting designer Nicola Cernovitch, who was my mentor. This was a grueling bus tour, full of one night stand performances, for four months between January 12 and April 5 of that year.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre 1968 USA Tour dancers were James Truitte, Judith Jamison, Consuelo Atlas, George Faison, Michele Murray, Sharon Miller, Kelvin Rotardier, Lynne Taylor, Michael Peters, and Elbert Morris. Repertory included Talley Beatty’s “Congo Tango Palace,” and “Toccata,” Alvin Ailey’s “Reflections in D,” “Blues Suite,” and “Revelations,” Geoffrey Holder‘s “Prodigal Prince,” as well as Lester Horton’s “The Beloved.”
Alvin wasn’t touring with us then. What could a choreographer do with one night stand shows but just witness them? This tour was about survival. Nicola Cernovitch was on tour through UCLA, then I was on my own. Suddenly I was doing lighting and stage managing. I started to hate the sound of that bus revving up outside of the hotel. You started to feel that you were a performance animal in a cage, only let out to perform, then thrown back in the cage/bus. When Nick left, I lost my voice for a while. I was mostly gesturing the time calls (half-hour, 15 min, 5 min…) to the company. I was trying to save my voice to call performance cues. At some point we dipped into the South. It was my first real experience with civil rights. This was a black company in the 60’s and sometimes we were accused of being freedom riders. Menus were thrown at us in restaurants, etc. I once asked the company to come to the theater as late as possible because the stage hands were biased rednecks, so I figured the less time we all spent together, the better. The opposite of this was when we played at a theater venue that doubled as a Negro cooking school. The black stagehands came to work in their Sunday best suits as if they were going to church. They were polite and attentive. The culmination of that tour was at Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania, which was a black college. It was the same day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was a quiet and sad bus ride back to New York. We arrived to riot-torn streets. The next day we had to do two performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Exhausted, I decided that wasn’t for me. I recommended Bill Hammond to replace me. Later, he became the General Manager for the company.
A week after, I was on tour with Glen Tetley’s company, another month and a half of touring by station wagon. Later that same year I toured with Merce Cunningham. The year 1968 was unbelievable for me.