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Release: Oct. 29, 1999

Alvin Ailey jazzes it up with world premiere by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre will perform the world premiere of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s "C Sharp Street -- B Flat Avenue" at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 19 and 20 in Hancher Auditorium on the University of Iowa campus.

Hancher commissioned Zollar, artistic director of the Urban Bush Women, for the 1999-2000 Millennium Festival, the nation’s most ambitious and extensive performing-arts millennium celebration.

Other works on the program will be Alvin Ailey’s "Revelations," one of the company’s signature pieces; "Divining," choreographed by Ailey artistic director Judith Jamison in 1984; and "Ascension," a 1998 work by choreographer Troy O’Neil Powell.

Hancher has presented Zollar’s Urban Bush Women on several occasions, including "Praise House" and the world premiere of her "Bones and Ash." The commission for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is Zollar’s first excursion into jazz, delving into the roots of her upbringing in Kansas City, where her mother was a cabaret singer and her brother was a jazz musician.

Her "C Sharp Street -- B Flat Avenue" is set to the "Picasso Suites" by Grammy Award-winning saxophonist and bass-clarinetist David Murray, one of the most-recorded artists in jazz. A co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, Murray has recorded 150 albums as a leader and was named 1980s "Musician of the Decade" by the Village Voice and 1992 "Musician of the Year" by New York Newsday.

While he is best known as an envelope-pushing composer and improviser -- a fixture in the readers’ polls of magazines including Downbeat, Jazz Times and Jazziz-- Murray’s eclectic career has even included a guest-artist gig with the Grateful Dead in Madison Square Garden.

Zollar established Urban Bush Women in 1984 to synthesize the African-American spiritual influences of her upbringing with dance and theater. Her work with the company has earned ongoing support from the National Endowment for the Arts and a New York Bessie Award. Her work has been presented at venues including Spoleto USA, the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the public television series "Alive From Off-Center."

Commissioning sponsors for this event are John W. and Mary Ann Colloton through the University of Iowa Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

In more than 40 years of performances, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre has become a national artistic treasure, and one of the leading advocates and interpreters of African-American traditions of spirituality, music, dance and literature.

In "Revelations," Ailey explored the motivations and emotions of African-American religious music to create a work that the New York Times’ Anna Kisselgoff called "Ailey’s great masterpiece of 1960, a tribute to the black heritage of America," and Karen Campbell of the Boston Globe recommended as "one of the most sublime dances ever choreographed."

In "Divining" Jamison continued the Ailey tradition of probing the spiritual core of African-American life in a work praised for its combination of raw tribal energy and urban sophistication. The critic of the Washington Post described "Divining" as "fascinating, atmospheric and propulsive."

Ailey provided choreographic opportunities for the members of his company, and Jamison has continued this tradition as well. "Ascension" is the choreographic debut of 20-year company member Troy O’Neil Powell. In "Ascension" Powell imagines a world ruled by a goddess and her muses, whose aim is not to inspire acts of creation but to set boundaries on them.

Hancher’s season-spanning Millennium Festival features 20 major commissions in music, theater and dance, with 15 of the commissioned works and productions receiving their world or American premieres in Hancher.

In addition to "C Sharp Street -- B Flat Avenue," new works have been created -- or are being created -- by theater visionary Robert Lepage; choreographers Twyla Tharp, Ushio Amagatsu, UI alumnus Lar Lubovitch, Susan Marshall, Paul Taylor, and Bill T. Jones; and composers Richard Danielpour, Michael Daugherty, Paul Schoenfield, and UI alumnus David Lang.

Performances of the commissioned works will be presented by prominent ensembles including American Ballet Theatre, Twyla Tharp Dance, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bang on a Can, the Kronos Quartet, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Sankai Juku, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, the Ahn Trio and the Ethos Percussion Group.

Tickets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre are $45, $40 and $34. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a 20-percent discount, with Zone 3 tickets available to UI students for $10 -- a discount of more than 60 percent. Tickets for audience members 17 and younger are half price.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

For more information on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, visit <> on the World Wide Web. For UI arts news and information, and arts calendar updates, visit the ArtsIowa website, <>.

(NOTE TO EDITORS: To request advance interviews, send e-mails to and, or call (212) 767-0590 and ask for Rubinee.)