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Judith Jamison  

American Dancer and Choreographer

Judith Jamison was appointed Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in December 1989 at the request of her mentor, Alvin Ailey, who personally chose her to succeed him before his untimely death. A native of Philadelphia, she studied with Marion Cuyjet, was discovered by Agnes de Mille and made her New York debut with American Ballet Theatre in 1964. She became a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1965 and danced with the Company for 15 years to great acclaim. Recognizing her extraordinary talent, Mr. Ailey created some of his most enduring roles for her, most notably the tour-de-force solo, Cry.

After leaving the Company in 1980, Ms. Jamison appeared as a guest artist with ballet companies all over the world and starred in the hit Broadway musical Sophisticated Ladies. In 1988, she formed her own company, The Jamison Project; a PBS special depicting her creative process, Judith Jamison: The Dancemaker, aired nationally the same year.

As a highly regarded choreographer, Ms. Jamison has created works for many companies. Her most recent work, Among Us (Private Spaces: Public Places), premiered in 2009. Her 2005 ballet Reminiscin’ was inspired by great female jazz artists and Edward Hopper’s famous painting Nighthawks. Love Stories, with additional choreography by Robert Battle and Rennie Harris, was created in 2004. In 2002, HERE.NOW. was commissioned for the Cultural Olympiad in Salt Lake City. Ms. Jamison choreographed Double Exposure for the Lincoln Center Festival in July 2000. In 1993, Ms. Jamison created Hymn as a stirring tribute to Mr. Ailey. Echo: Far From Home (1998), Sweet Release (1996), Riverside (1995), Rift (1991), and Divining (1984) are other major works she has choreographed for the Company.

Ms. Jamison is an author whose autobiography, Dancing Spirit, was edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and published by Doubleday in 1993. She is the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, including a prime time Emmy Award and an American Choreography Award for the PBS "Great Performances: Dance In America" special, A Hymn for Alvin Ailey, and an honorary doctorate from Howard University. In December 1999, Ms. Jamison was presented with the Kennedy Center Honor, recognizing her lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. In 2001, she received the Algur H. Meadows Award from Southern Methodist University and was presented with a National Medal of Arts, the most prestigious award presented to artists in the United States. She received the “Making a Difference” Award by the NAACP ACT-SO, the Paul Robeson award from Actors’ Equity Association in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the performing arts and commitment to the right of all people to live in dignity and peace, and a “Bessie” Award for her lifetime commitment to the preservation and development of dance and the arts. In 2009, Ms. Jamison was honored at “The BET Honors,” an event that recognizes the lives and achievements of leading African-American luminaries, and she was listed in the TIME 100: The World’s Most Influential People. She was also awarded the highest rank of the Order of Arts and Letters, an award that recognizes eminent artists and writers, and those who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. In 2010, Ms. Jamison’s costume from Alvin Ailey’s 1975 ballet The Mooche was added to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and she received the 2010 Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award, presented annually to an individual who has given exceptional time and energy to artists and the arts. She was also honored by First Lady Michelle Obama at the first White House Dance Series: A Tribute to Judith Jamison and was named the 2010 recipient of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s prestigious Phoenix Award. Most recently, Mayor Bloomberg presented Ms. Jamison with the Handel Medallion, the highest honor awarded by the City of New York.

Today, Judith Jamison presides over the artistically and fiscally vibrant Ailey organization. Her presence has been a catalyst, propelling the organization in new directions – the development of the Women's Choreography Initiative; performances at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and the 2002 Cultural Olympiad in Salt Lake City where she carried the Olympic torch during the relay prior to the opening ceremonies; and two historic engagements in South Africa. Recently, she led the Company on a 50-city global tour celebrating Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 50th anniversary with a year-long series of special performances, collaborations, events and commemorative merchandise including an Ailey Barbie® Doll by Mattel designed by Ms. Jamison. She has continued Mr. Ailey's practice of showcasing the talents of emerging choreographers from within the ranks of the Company. As Artistic Director of The Ailey School, official school of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ms. Jamison has helped to implement a multicultural curriculum including the dances of West Africa and South India. She is an advocate for education in the arts and was a guiding force in establishing the B.F.A. program between The Ailey School and Fordham University, which offers a unique combination of world-class dance training and a superior liberal arts education. Following the tradition of Alvin Ailey, Ms. Jamison is dedicated to asserting the prominence of the arts in our culture, spearheading initiatives to bring dance into the community and programs that introduce children to the arts. She remains committed to promoting the significance of the Ailey legacy--dance as a medium for honoring the past, celebrating the present and fearlessly reaching into the future. In 2004, under Ms. Jamison's artistic directorship, her idea of "a bigger place", the permanent home for the Ailey company, was realized and named after beloved chairman Joan Weill. The Joan Weill Center for Dance, a state-of-the-art building located at 55th Street and 9th Avenue, was the realization of her long-awaited dream.

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