Composite Bodies of Dance: The Repertory of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs a diverse repertory of modern dance works. The demands of a diverse repertory are not invisible, however, and the Ailey company has struggled at times to satisfy the needs of varied choreographic grammars. This essay explores the challenges and implications of a varied repertory for American modern dance artists in terms of dance techniques, critical reception, casting, and the strategies of style as capable of producing recognizable black embodiment by the Ailey company from 1958 through 2005. I suggest that the diverse repertory amplifies African American strategies of versatility as survival, embeds "mastery of form" as a foundational ethic of dance training for its performers, and predicts a "deformation of mastery," through the assemblage of dance techniques by its company members, toward an ultimate valuation of performance style. Through its repertory, the Ailey company stages composite bodies that reveal aesthetic affinities and political connections among disparate dance techniques and histories, laying bare ever-expanding possibilities for concert dance to connect with its audiences.