Alvin Ailey foundation looking for a godfather

WILEY A. HALL

March 02, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has its Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts has the Morris Mechanic Theatre. Even the relatively small Baltimore Opera Company has its modest set of offices on Read Street.

But the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation of Maryland has no such permanent edifice -- nothing passers-by can point to and say, "There! Therein lies the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation of Maryland."

"Maybe that's why we're not considered one of the majors," says Marsha Reeves Jews, director of the foundation.

"When people think about the major arts institutions in the state, they think about the BSO, the Mechanic, the opera, Center Stage. I'm afraid they rarely think of us.

"It's like we are here but we're not here," Mrs. Jews continues. "We're an enigma to people. Maybe if somebody donated a building to us, and we stuck our name on the front, people would be able to fix us in their minds."

Getting a building remains one goal. Staying alive, however, is the most immediate concern.

The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Company is an internationally renowned institution, headquartered in New York City. For the past three years Baltimore has been its second home. But those three years were part of a pilot project, and the experiment is scheduled to end by the close of the summer.

The foundation will have to demonstrate by then that it can generate much more financial support from the Maryland community.

"The problem is, this comes at a really sticky time," says Mrs. Jews. "Everyone is telling us that public support -- through the state and the city -- might be cut back at any moment because of the recession. And the major donors are just about tapped out. We have had major support from organizations such as Maryland National Bank, Super Pride and the Abell Foundation, but you have to remember: Alvin Ailey is a big-budget, world-class dance company and it is very expensive to bring it here. So this is a critical situation. We need something like a godfather."

Though the public may not realize it, the Alvin Ailey troupe actually maintains a considerable presence here. Thursday, the company will launch a four-day performance schedule at the Mechanic Theater with a presentation of its trademark piece, "Revelations," featuring musical accompaniment by the Morgan State University choir. The annual performance is part of a fund-raiser for the AileyCamp of Maryland, a six week camp for "at risk" children ages 11 to 13.

But members of the company will be here all week, giving lectures and presentations at schools and churches and for senior citizens. This morning, for example, the schedule called for a performance at Western High School. And a repertory company visits the state throughout the year.

"This really, really is the company's second home," says Mrs. Jews. "Even in New York they perform only once a year. The company not only performs here on an annual basis, they actually spend more time in Maryland than they do anywhere else in the world," she says, referring to this week's community appearances.

"And, there is something very special about Alvin Ailey performances," Mrs. Jews adds. "It is not just about performing, it is about bringing people together, looking inside ourselves, building for the future. We probably are the only cultural arts institution that does not need an outreach committee to bring people in. Black people, white people -- they all understand and take pride in what Alvin Ailey is all about."

The foundation would like to do more here, Mrs. Jews says. It would like to bring the company to Maryland more often. It would like to maintain an artist in residence. It would like to expand the AileyCamp so that it reaches more children. And the foundation would like its own building with a nice sign out front.

All of those dreams and ambitions hinge upon this year, however. This is the pivotal year, the do-or-die, put-up-or-shut-up year for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation of Maryland.

This magnificent dance company of worldwide acclaim is waiting for us to embrace it as one of the family.

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