The Ailey Spirit Gala 2023

Yvonna Russell
5 min readMay 26, 2023
Executive Director Bennett Rink Chairman Daria L. Wallach Artistic Director Robert Battle and Board President Anthony Kendall (Photo by Christopher Duggan)

You gotta realize that there ain’t no party like The Ailey Spirit Gala! For the first time The Ailey Spirit Gala was held at the beautiful Jazz at Lincoln Center on the evening of May 24th in Manhattan. The spectacular one night only benefit was a celebration of the art and soul of dance to benefit Ailey’s uplifting programs for young people including scholarships for talented students of The Ailey School and Arts In Education & Community Programs.

2023 Ailey Spirit Gala Honorary Chair Andra Day and Artistic Director Robert Battle. Photo by Pete Monsanto

The world renowned Ailey organization has grown significantly since Alvin Ailey and a group of young, Black modern dancers performed for the first time at New York’s 92nd Street Y in 1958. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has performed for an estimated 25 million people in 71 countries on six continents, promoting the uniqueness of the African American cultural experience and the preservation and enrichment of the American modern dance tradition.

Amber Laign Robin Roberts Artistic Director Robert Battle and Jessica Higgins at 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Beautiful people from the worlds of entertainment, business, philanthropy and politics including Jillian Hervey (Lion Babe), Damaris Lewis, Karen Pittman and Robin Roberts joined Artistic Director Robert Battle, Ailey Trustee Dr. Danielle Robinson and the Reverend Dwayne McClary and Ailey Board Chair Daria L. Wallach and Eric J. Wallach for champagne and red carpet photos in The Appel Room before the program in The Rose Theater.

Gala Co-Chairs Rev Dwayne McClary and Dr. Danielle Robinson with Bennett Rink and Robert Battle at the 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Christopher Duggan

“The Ailey Spirit Gala is the one time of the year when the beating heart of everything Ailey joins in celebration and moves together with love,” said Robert Battle, Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Ailey Extension Students in Maguette Camara’s Djoutalla Ailey Spirit Gala 2023. Photo by Christopher Duggan

First the one-night-only Ailey American Dance Theater program kicked off with drummers from Djoutalla and the Ailey Extension students in a dance and drum demonstration led by Ailey instructor Maguette Camara.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Vernard Gilmore and students from The Ailey School Junior Division in Hope Boykin’s Chasing the Spirit 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Ailey Board Chairwoman Daria Wallach introduced the piece de occasion. Former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Hope Boykin premiered her choreography in Chasing The Spirit, a multigenerational Ailey family performance in a tribute to the power of dance to unite, uplift, and inspire.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations at the 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Honorary Chair for the evening GRAMMY® Award-winning singer-songwriter and Golden Globe-winning actress for her feature-acting debut in the biopic “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”, Andra Day took time from her busy schedule to grace the gala. Audra is currently working on her second studio album while preparing for the upcoming release of her Netflix thriller, “The Deliverance”. Andra introduced The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater performance.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations at the 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Ailey American Dance Theater took the audience to church with excepts from ‘Revelations’. Take me to the Water and Move, Members, Move had everyone on their feet for standing ovations. Alvin Ailey’s most iconic ballet, ‘Revelations’ premiered in 1960. African American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs, and holy blues, ‘Revelations’ fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy within the soul. The magic continues at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) presents Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s New York City season from June 6–11.

AAADT’s Miranda Quinn and Kanji Segawa at 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Christopher Duggan
Danni Gee and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Yannick Lebrun at 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Christopher Duggan
Artistic Director Robert Battle and Hope Boykin at 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Donna Ward

Outside was raining but ensconced within a stunning wall of glass with views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline, the elegant after party was an open bar with specialty cocktails and bites of lobster rolls, mini sliders, beef tenderloin with risotto, spicy pork bao, butterfly shrimp and Thai lettuce cups. Dessert was three tiers of sweets.

DJ M.O.S. at 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Pete Monsanto

The Appel Room was a sexy candlelight lounge serenaded by the music stylings of DJ M.O.S. Yes of course there was sensational dancing.

Guests dancing at the 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Christopher Duggan
Guests dancing at the 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Christopher Duggan

“For this unique celebration, we applaud all the dancers involved from across the entire Ailey organization who showed us so beautifully the importance of passing forward the spirit of dance ” stated Bennett Rink, Executive Director of Ailey.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at 2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Donna Ward

The Ailey Spirit Gala was the soulful soiree benefit party of Spring 2023. The fabulous evening sponsored by Diageo North America raised funds for The Ailey School and Arts In Education & Community Programs, outreach programs — including a signature fully-funded summer camp for preteens — and even Ailey Extension, where people of all ages can drop in for movement classes.

2023 Ailey Spirit Gala. Photo by Christopher Duggan

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Yvonna Russell

Writer. I cover the arts, good causes and style. Will work for coffee, wine and Manolo Blahniks.