Following on the Bristol-premiere of Ailey, the Society for Dance Research and Kauma Arts held a Choreographic Forum at the Cube last month, on the 6th February. This hybrid event celebrated the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Company’s success in fostering participation and visibility of Black and African Diaspora communities in the dance industry, its impact in the UK and its resonance with today’s dance ecology in Bristol. Speakers including Thomas F. DeFrantz, Adesola Akinleye, and Cleo Lake contributed to a vibrant and illuminating appraisal of the film and the company’s legacy. 

The event was chaired by Mercy Nabirye, Director of Kauma Arts, and Sinibaldo De Rosa for the Society for Dance Research (who elegantly navigated the technical hiccups!).

We are honoured to be able to share a poem by Latisha Cesar written in response to the film and for the event, which can be found below. We will be in touch soon with further reflections from this brilliant event. 

Ailey in a Cube (Goodbye Dad)

What legacy is a Black man allowed
What is the face that a Black man is allowed to show
What shape must they twist themselves into
What heights must they stretch their limbs to reach
What are the lies we expect them to tell
And we resent them for telling.
What is legacy to a Black man
Who was never allowed to bring their whole self to this world Using their muscles to pound out and knead
A shape with poor tools and limited space
What does your life mean
When your avatar can be immediately hacked and appropriated When they begin before you end
And restrict your breath
And tell you there is a wrong way and a right way to die
How many years til you are able to enable
Your progeny your protégées to tell your true story
As your story.
When you whisper to us and through us
From the ancestral realm
May we have ears to listen
May we treat you with the honor
That your mere existence earned
And your “survival” solidified
We do not love you for your works
Though we cherish these portals by which we can connect
We love you because you were and because you are

We love you because your life gives us
More language for inner under and overstanding our truth. What is time to you
But a measure of change in perspective
The distance at which
The legends they create about you
Gives us clues to the fantasies that hold us captive
Where we see the trophy case where you were kept
For the prison that it truly was
But we also know that we are the key
To free you
To free me

A note to you dear reader:

I was born in 1981 in Brooklyn NY, to a man named R. I have lived long enough to watch Alvin Ailey’s works performed and to see him “honored” for hiding himself. I have been able to train at the school that was created in his honor. I remember the secrets and lies told about him at the time of his death and I am refreshed to see him given the space to be himself 33 years after his passing. On the day that the Ailey Documentary premiered at the Cube Bristol (February 6, 2022) R passed over to the other side. As I was losing the man that made me, I was being gifted back a man whose life shaped me. This is a gift that was crafted by many hands. May my hands be part of a gift to someone else.

This is legacy. This is love. Ayibobo