Alexis Wilson

Jun 3, 2013

Not So Black and White

Tree Spirit Publishing 2012

purchase at bookshop.org When I think of the name "Billy Wilson" certain things come to mind immediately. I think of his sparkling career as director and choreographer of "Bubbling Brown Sugar" on Broadway. I am still stunned by his ability to shift from Broadway and back again so readily into making master works for the concert dance stage - Wilson's works are in the repertory today of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Philadanco (Philadelphia Dance Company) and the Dance Theater of Harlem. I am all warm inside when I remember seeing the lush, rhythmic and striking choreography he created to the music of Dizzy Gillespie for his last work of concert dance, "The Winter in Lisbon" (1992.) A tour de force, Wilson was a passionate and celebrated dancer during his time as a soloist with the Dutch National Ballet and was later founder of the Dance Theater of Boston. For me, Billy Wilson is one of those names in dance history that is all too often reduced to a footnote that obfuscates his career and contributions to dance at home and abroad. I am thrilled that his daughter, Alexis Wilson, has stepped up and out to ensure that her father's legacy survives, all while sharing her own voice and lived experiences with deep integrity. Alexis Wilson's touching and deeply personal book Not So Black and White (Tree Spirit Publishing, 2012) goes well beyond the commonly known information about her father's life and work to reveal her experience growing up as the daughter of this dance genius. This book is her memoir, which is at once both a loving homage to her father, a meditation on her life as the biracial daughter of Wilson and a Dutch ballerina (Sonja van Beers) and a narrative that strives for reconciliation of the contradictions that shaped Alexis's life. Abandoned by her mother at the age of 11, moving through the worlds of ballet and Broadway and navigating her life journey with her father and his chosen life partner (Chip Garnett) are just a taste of what shaped Alexis's experiences. An accomplished dancer, author, mother and more, Alexis Wilson does what she did not have to do in this book: she pours herself onto the page so that others might have a lens through which to know who her father was beyond the footlights and a look at how race, class, art, love and pain intertwine to create a stunning portrait of her life. This work is at once deeply personal and relevant to the history of 20th century American dance. With a foreword by actor Blair Underwood, Not So Black and White is not to be missed. Today, Alexis Wilson makes her home in Columbus, OH with her two daughters and her husband, Byron.

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