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This tender and touching documentary about a contemporary dance visionary offers a glimpse of the man behind the genius.

AAs much to celebrate the joy, community and resistance of blacks, Alvin Ailey’s choreography embodied the depths of collective pain, shifting protest from the street to the stage.

Mentally ill and doomed to the solitary space of creation, Ailey’s ambition was as stubborn as it was all-consuming, and because of homophobia he became an increasingly isolated figure. This struggle to find intimacy guides Jamila Wignot’s documentary, which carefully contextualizes its secret nature within a repressive historical context.

Annukka Lilja’s artful editing combines vintage black and white footage and audio recordings for a mesmerizing effect. Through a treasure trove of never-before-seen audio recordings, Ailey’s personal contribution – which he recounts with unprecedented tenderness – is woven into a tale of biography, performance and social history. Her narration exudes a lyricism that matches her fluid vocabulary of movement that has revolutionized the contemporary dance landscape.

Perhaps in a formal attempt to emulate Ailey’s fluid work, the timeline becomes muddled, with some footage struggling to keep viewers oriented in time. To its credit, the film is confronted with the impossible task of understanding a notoriously closed subject, and does not hesitate to make transparent its frustration in its inability to go deeper into it.

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