Dance
5:00 am
Wed August 21, 2013

Famed Choreographer's Personal Papers Find New Home

Michael Sweeney, the Archives' collection librarian; Crosby Kemper III, director of the Kansas City Public Library; and Allan Gray, Lee's Summit mayor pro tem, view some of the objects on display.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

Playbills from performances, snapshots of family and friends, and personal letters of the late choreographer Alvin Ailey are now housed at the Black Archives of Mid-America.

The collection is called the Allan Gray Family Personal Papers of Alvin Ailey. And it's on long-term loan to the Black Archives.

Gray, Lee's Summit mayor pro tem, is also the founder and chairman emeritus of Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, the official second home, since 1984, of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. When Ailey died in 1989, he gave Gray his personal papers.

Deciding to bring "Ailey's vision" to the public

At a press conference at the Black Archives on Monday, Gray mentioned the late Horace Peterson, the founder of the Archives, who approached him after Ailey's death to offer the collection - including Ailey's ideas and sketches for choreography and costumes, production and rehearsal photographs, and books from his personal library - a home.

For Gray, the decision to house the collection at the Archives marked more than two decades "of emotion, of introspection, and of thinking of what was the best way of bringing Alvin’s vision to a permanent location, a permanent place where the world could indeed share who Alvin was as a person."

Items on display at the Black Archives include notebooks, photos, buttons, and more.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

He added, "In this collection, you’ll be able to read about what Alvin was thinking when he created Revelations. You’ll get into Alvin’s mind as he looked at dancers and the process that he would go through to select a dancer, not just because of their artistic ability or their technical ability, but because that dancer in that time and place may have needed the dance more than the dance needed them."

An artist who chose Kansas City

"We send a lot of our greatest cultural figures – Langston Hughes, Charlie Parker – out into the larger world. We brought Alvin Ailey here," said Crosby Kemper III, director of Kansas City Public Library.  "The strength and beauty of modern dance, combined with a very particular kind of intelligence and elegance was Alvin Ailey’s own and it continues with his company."

Kemper said the impact of Alvin Ailey's influence on Kansas City continues to this day with annual performances by the company or its second company, Ailey II, representing "the best coming together of the black and white communities in Kansas City, socially and culturally."

The collection will be stored in a room at the Black Archives, for viewing and scholarly research. A small sampling of notebooks, photographs, programs, and other materials is currently on display. Plans are in the works to develop, along with the library, an interactive traveling exhibit.