Dance Luminary Judith Jamison to be Honored at Commencement 2013

Amidst the highly choreographed pomp and ceremony of Duke University's Commencement this year, an honorary doctorate will be awarded to a true pioneer in choreography, Judith Jamison. For Duke's flourishing Dance Program, it will be an occasion to savor. Barbara Dickinson, the program's Director of Undergraduate Studies, will present Jamison at the May 12 ceremony in Wallace Wade Stadium.

"Judith Jamison is my inspiration and my hero," said Andrea Woods Valdes, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Dance. "This is a very proud moment for Duke, during a time when the arts and especially the Dance Program are growing and being recognized within the University, as well as in the academic, professional and creative world. Jamison is extraordinary in that her career reflects the complete artistry of a dancer, choreographer and artistic director. Honoring her achievements is a capstone moment for Duke."

In 1965, Jamison joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a company founded to bring African-American cultural expression and the American modern dance tradition to the world. She was a principal dancer in the company for 15 years, inspiring and creating some of Ailey's most memorable roles. She left in 1980 to star in Sophisticated Ladies, a Broadway musical based on the music of Duke Ellington. Subsequently, she founded a dance company, The Jamison Project, to present her own work.

After nearly a decade as an independent artist, Jamison returned to Ailey company to take up one of his greatest and most significant roles—Artistic Director. During her 21 years at the helm of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, she created many noted works for the company and led it through two historic engagements in South Africa and a 50-city global tour to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary.

Thomas DeFrantz lauds Jamison for not only creating a terrific body of modern dance work but also for her institutional leadership, which included such pathbreaking efforts as the Alvin Ailey Women's Choreography Initiative. DeFrantz is Professor of African and African American Studies, Dance and Theater Studies at Duke and author of the 2004 book Dancing Revelations: Alvin Ailey's Embodiment of African American Culture.

"All of us who have come into her orbit have benefitted from her large generous creative spirit." DeFrantz said.