By Stephen Stirling
Started in 1958 by Alvin Ailey, the dance troupe quickly rose to prominence after giving its first ground-breaking performance at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan with a group of young, black modern dancers. Since then the troupe has evolved into an internationally renowned touring group as well as a cultural institution that has introduced modern dance to underprivileged youths across the country.”This is amazing when you think about it,” said the Rev. Margaret Elaine M. Flake, assistant pastor at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral. “They have been America's cultural ambassadors to the world. It's incredible what God has used them to do.”Sunday marked the dance company's 50th anniversary, which kicked off an 18-month celebration during which the dance company will tour the country and the world, including a stop at Queens Theatre in the Park Aug. 12.Jamaica-native Nasha Thomas-Schmitt, currently director of the Alvin Ailey National Camp, said even though Ailey is no longer alive, his spirit is carried on through the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.Ailey, who was born in Texas in 1931, trained with Martha Graham in New York as a dancer and choreographed dozens of dances for his troupe, including the classic “Revelations,” based on his experience as a black youth in the southern part of the country. “Alvin's heart beat once for himself and once for everyone else,” Schmitt said. “Ailey is the celebration of joy, of sadness, of all of these feelings. Ailey takes these stories and brings them to life, stories that are part of all of us.”Schmitt said one of the most important goals of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater remains to expose people to the world of dance, who otherwise would not have been. She pointed out that the theater not only serves communities as a cultural institution, but as a teaching tool.”It's important for young people to know what they think before they bring it to the world and Ailey helps them do that,” she said. “It's now become bigger than just a dance company.”Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.