“Y’all ready?” was the question honorary cochair Queen Latifah proposed to the crowd as she introduced the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on its opening night to kick off a five-week holiday season of Modern American Songbook. Queen Latifah was “honored to be a part of the evening and inspired to shared the stage with such talented dancers.” Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” burst over the sound system and the dancers floated out, clad in flowy pink dresses and gold hoops. It was a powerful start to an evening of awe-inspiring performances in honor of Debra L. Lee, the Alvin Ailey board president as well as the CEO of BET Networks. The performances were held at the New York City Center in Midtown, where the company has held its season premieres since 1971.
The Modern American Songbook gala took songs such as Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star” and gave them a new life with wonderful choreography. The storytelling through the music and the dancers’ fluid movements would have made the late Alvin Ailey proud as they truly personified his legacy that “dance comes from the people and should be given back to the people.”
Among the awestruck crowd was the Missoni-clad veteran actor Cicely Tyson, author and activist Janet Mock in a gold lamé set by Nanette Lepore, and, of course, honorary cochair and music and film star Queen Latifah, who wore a sleek navy off-the-shoulder Christian Siriano gown.
Jillian Hervey of the group Lion Babe was clad in “custom vintage VW” a name she adoringly calls her mother, actor Vanessa Williams. Hervey, who has been attending Alvin Ailey performances since she can remember, says the Alvin Ailey dance company is “one of the biggest influences in [her] career,” as she feels the company is “unmatched and iconic.”
Artist Janelle Monáe was “absolutely honored” to be in attendance as an honorary cochair of the evening and to introduce the very well-known modern dance performance Revelations, which has been performed by the theater since 1960. The piece, choreographed by the late Ailey himself, illustrates the story of African-American tenacity through a series of dances set to spirituals and gospel music. The inspiring performance and show made her feel “so proud to be an artist, proud to be black, and proud to be American.“ She was clad in a black-and-white houndstooth Thom Browne suit. She paired it with a bold red lip and a large brimmed hat. For her and for all in the audience, the “night was full of magic and one to remember.”