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Dancer in the wings.

On December 10 at City Center in Manhattan, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater honors Associate Artistic Director Masazumi Chaya for his thirty-year commitment to the company. The special evening will be comprised of Billy Wilson's The Winter in Lisbon, danced to the music of Dizzy Gillespie and restaged by Chaya, along with two Ailey classics--Duke Ellington's The River and the company's signature spiritual extravaganza, Revelations. Among the guest artists are former Ailey stars Aubrey Lynch II, who went on to make his Broadway mark in The Lion King, and Desmond Richardson, who was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Fosse.

Chaya's career with the company began with a chance encounter. Three decades ago, his friend, Michihiko Oka, was invited to join the Ailey company. When he went to sign the contract, he asked Chaya to come with him to provide translation help. "I didn't speak English either," remembers Chaya. "But at least I spoke a little better than Oka. I had no idea [the meeting] was going to lead to a definite setup for my life to come." Coincidentally, the day Chaya was at the Ailey studios Clive Barnes had written favorably about his performance with Richard Englund's Ballet Repertory Company. Ailey told Chaya to come back the next day to audition and he has been there ever since--first as a performing artist, then rehearsal director, and eventually as Ailey's choreographic assistant. Presently, under Artistic Director and Ailey muse Judith Jamison, Chaya serves as associate artistic director of the company, a post he has filled since 1991.

Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Chaya wanted to be an actor in musical comedies. As a teenager he became a dresser for a celebrated Kabuki performer in Tokyo, who arranged for him to study singing and dancing. In the early 1970s, he moved to the thriving New York City dance scene. He signed a contract with Ailey in 1972, and his first task was to learn five ballets in two weeks. Ailey went on to create roles for him in Hidden Rites; Night Creature; The Mooche; Black, Brown, and Beige; Mernoria; and Phases.

"I went to all of Ailey's rehearsals and learned everybody's part," recalls Chaya. "I can remember almost every step because I have one of those Japanese computer brains." His excellent memory comes in handy since his responsibilities now include keeping the Ailey repertoire (which includes many works of other choreographers, such as Talley Beatty, Ulysses Dove, and Donald McKayle) intact, and setting and licensing Ailey's ballets around the world.

"Chaya is a consummate artist, a lifelong friend, and a generous spirit with a sense of humor beyond compare," says Jamison. "He is also the glorious purveyor of Mr. Ailey's work and the glue that holds everything together."
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Title Annotation:Biography; Rosalie O'Connor
Author:Lydon, Kate
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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