Alvin Ailey and "A Song for You": A Dedication to the Memory of George Floyd - Michigan Opera Theatre

Alvin Ailey and “A Song for You”: A Dedication to the Memory of George Floyd

By Jon Teeuwissen, MOT Artistic Advisor for Dance

This past week has been filled with grief, anxiety, sadness, fear and violence as a result of the arrest and murder of Mr. George Floyd. His death represents an injustice that for many is unfathomable. It is never easy to have something so horrific and ugly shoved in your face, forcing you to acknowledge its very existence. Mr. Floyd’s brother has called for an end to the violence; he has called for healing in the name of his brother George - a peaceful man who had previously posted on Facebook a plea against the use of guns.   

Inequality is nothing new in America. Alvin Ailey, an accomplished African American dancer, founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958, largely to share, through dance, the Black experience. To quote Mr. Ailey, with regards to some criticism he received for his theatrical works, he exclaimed: 

The Black pieces we do that come from blues, spirituals and gospels are part of what I am. They are as honest and truthful as we can make them. I'm interested in putting something on stage that will have a very wide appeal without being condescending; that will reach an audience and make it part of the dance; that will get everybody into the theater. If it's art and entertainment—thank God, that's what I want to be.

Ailey choreographed "A Song for You " in 1972 for dancer Dudley Williams. Later that year, Ailey extended the work into a three-piece technical and dramatic tour de force showcasing Williams strength and delicacy. In theme, "Love Songs" offers a message of hope and commitment as it traces the dancer's journey through love, anguish and determination to overcome adversity- a message that couldn’t be more relevant today. 

 "A Song for You is danced to a recording made by the late great Donny Hathaway, who delivers a powerfully emotional rendition of the music and lyrics written by Leon Russell. Williams performed "A Song for You" during the memorial celebration for Alvin Ailey following his death in 1989. 

“A Song for You” has always touched me in a very personal way.  In the early 2000s I engaged Ailey dancer Clifton Brown to dance the piece for a dear friend’s memorial service in New York. 

I hope you find both solace and beauty in the following two videos of “A Song for You” – one danced by Williams, who originated the role, the other, a more current interpretation by Matthew Rushing. 

Dudley Williams

Matthew Rushing