Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 50th Anniversary

Oprah Winfrey and Jesse Jackson attends the opening night performance celebrating Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 50th anniversary at the New York City Center on December 3, 2008 in New York City.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is 50 years old. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proclaimed Dec. 4 Alvin Ailey Day in New York; Gov. David A. Paterson has honored the company on behalf of the State of New York; and the United States Congress has called it the nation’s cultural ambassador to the world. Riding high on this wave of achievement, the troupe opened its annual five-week season at New York City Center on Wednesday evening with the best gala I have attended in decades.

Oprah Winfrey, looking glorious, also spoke, very nearly as excitingly and to the great delight of the audience. Warmly exuding a full sense of the historic occasion, she called dance “the transcendent mother tongue of the world.” As if to prove this, she cited the astounding numbers: the 48 American states and 71 foreign countries where the Ailey dancers have appeared, the 21 million spectators who have watched Ailey performances. (New York

(Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)