By Walter Rutledge
In 2003 I called Ailey Dancer Emeritus Dudley Williams at that time he was a 39 year veteran of the Ailey Company, one year from a forty year milestone as an Ailey dancer. The Bearden Foundation and The Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Theater were planning a centennial celebration for renowned artist Romare Bearden. The dance company would present a new work On The Block based on the six panel mural by Bearden, which is in the permanent collection at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I introduced myself and explained the projected; we wanted him to play an abusive husband opposite Hope Clark. I finished the introduction with “I have called you the Lyric Crown Prince of modern dance but in this work I’m going to need you to be a real son of a bitch”. He paused then quickly responded “I can do that”. This began a working relationship and friendship that would last until his death. I still miss Dudley’s dry wit and even drier Bombay Blue Sapphire Martini. I know that you are still dancing this solo probably with Alvin directing and Donny singing.
In 1972, Alvin Ailey created the elegiac solo Love Songs for dancer Dudley Williams. The sixteen minute solo, composed in three sections includes A Song for You by Donny Hathaway; Poppies by Nina Simone; and He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother by Donny Hathaway. Many thought of the work as the male equivalent of the female solo Cry (1971).
Dudley said that Judith Jamison introduced him to the Donny Hathaway music and he then shared it with Ailey. One day Ailey called him into the studio and said, “This is for you Chicken”, (Ailey’s pet name for Dudley) and began to choreographer the opening movement A Song For You. The work provided Dudley, at the peak of his technical prowess, a vehicle to showcase his impeccable lyricism and stage presence.
Jennifer Dunning’s December 14, 1986 New York Times review of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater began with an acknowledgement to dancer Dudley Williams. The title and opening paragraphs says it all.
DANCE: DUDLEY WILLIAMS IN AILEY’S ‘LOVE SONGS’
By JENNIFER DUNNING
Published: December 14, 1986
It was Dudley Williams night when the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed at City Center on Wednesday. Mr. Williams, an early member of the Ailey company, can still fill the stage with his subtle presence.
In ”Love Songs,” Mr. Ailey has given him the perfect vehicle. The 1972 solo, danced to a suite of three songs performed by Donny Hathaway and Nina Simone, is a pure exposition of Mr. Williams’s deft and sensitive phrasing, his long, lyrical arabesque and his ability to project the most delicate emotions up into the back of the balcony with the merest flick of the shoulder or tilt of the head. And to see Mr. Williams return as the brooding, limping Progenitor and waspish Club Manager in ”For Bird – With Love,” which followed ”Love Songs” on Wednesday’s program, was one of the evening’s high points.
Love Songs (1986)- Dudley Williams
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