Tuesday, May 28, 2024

‘It’s like a melting pot’



On the eve of a highly-anticipated performance in Las Vegas, the principal dancer of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater opens up about the art of movement.

When Alvin Ailey founded his eponymous dance troupe in 1958, he forever changed the global perception of American dance. He did it by establishing a multi-racial repertory company — one that pays respect to history with works by respected masters of dance, and sets a course for the future by showcasing emerging choreographers.

Today, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is one of the world’s premier dance companies — a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, and recognized by congressional resolution as a “cultural ambassador to the world.”

Photos by Paul Kolnik

Now, the famed troupe is coming to Las Vegas, with amazing performances set for April 19-20 at the Smith Center for Performing Arts. Las Vegas Black Image Magazine recently spoke with Jacqueline Green, principal dancer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for a preview of the upcoming Vegas performance and an insider’s perspective on how dance impacts the world.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims. Photo by Andrew Eccles

What can people expect from your Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance in Vegas?

We always come with a lot of fun, with a lot of emotion. It will be a good time. We have two performances, including a student performance. We will perform a lot of different dance routines.

What is the student performance?

Our regular performances are around two hours and a student performance is half of that. It’s compressed into an hour’s time and we perform dance routines such as our signature “Revelations,” for the students who are from the Las Vegas area, We have a representative from our dance company who gives the students a little history of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, than we perform shorter versions of our dance excerpts. There is also an audience participation element that the students really enjoy.

How many people are in the dance company?

There are 30 dancers.

Are all the dancers African-American?

No, that’s the thing — when Mr. Ailey started the dance company, people thought it was for only black dancers. But, he started it for all different types of people of color. Back when Mr. Ailey started the company in 1958, black dancers couldn’t get jobs anywhere. So, he was passionate about including everyone in his own company.

Has the professional dance environment changed much since those days of segregation?

I believe it has changed a little, but when I was a student I definitely felt some biases. That is one of the reasons I wanted to join Alvin Ailey — because it accepts everyone, all types of ethnicities. Dance opportunities are not as prevalent as we would like them to be. We are still growing and it is happening.

What is the recruitment process for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater?

There are auditions held in New York that people from all over the world attend.

Alvin Ailey passed on in 1989. Who took over then?

Yes, he did. Before his death, he named Judith Jamison as his successor, and over the next 21 years, she brought the company to unprecedented success. Ms. Jamison, in turn, selected Robert Battle to succeed her in 2011. Mr. Battle is the current artistic director.

Are there any new dance routines that will be introduced in the Vegas performance?

We have a world premiere choreographer, Rennie Harris, who is a hip-hop choreographer. I am sure a lot of people will relate to his routines and try to pick up on some moves. We will perform his dance piece called “Exodus,” on the first night in Vegas. This is another great thing about Alvin Ailey — you can’t be one type of dancer. He wanted dancers who could fit in any style of dance and perfect it. I am classically trained in ballet, but since I joined the company I have had to do hip-hop, salsa and modern dance. You never know, but it keeps you on your toes.

Will there be any African dance at your Vegas performance?

Actually, we have another world premiere by one of our favorite choreographers, Ronald K. Brown, who has several pieces in the repertory. We’ll be performing his piece called “Open Door,” which has Africa-inspired movements. Brown once took a trip to Cuba and he was inspired with the Afro-Cuban style of dance. It’s really fun and the audiences love it.

How does the Vegas audience response to the company compare to other cities?

The Vegas audience really loves to have fun. It’s a big city and people are always there for a good time — it really reminds me of New York a little bit. We are always happy to see how people in Vegas come out and support the show.

How often does the company tour?

Our current tour started Feb. 2, and consists of 20 cities. This is just the domestic tour — and then we do an international tour which is usually around the fall. We will travel for a good six to seven months, than we have rehearsals when we are home in New York. We have a New York season in the summer and in the winter. It is a full-time obligation.

What is your regimen for staying healthy while on tour?

I love, love food … but I also have to think about the health benefits of the food I eat, because my work as a dancer is very physical. You have to give your body food that will nourish you and keep you moving. So, I can’t have heavy foods every day. You have to eat greens and things that gives your body vitamins. When someone gets sick in the company, we all get sick. Everyone has a goal to stay healthy and take a lot of Vitamin C.

How many dancers are African American or black?

We have a great number of black dancers, We have a dancer from Ghana, the Dominican Republic and Japan. It’s like a melting pot. I am a black American, but it’s not a requirement.

If someone wanted to try out to become an Alvin Ailey dancer—is there a certain time of year you hold the auditions?

The audition dates are posted in the spring. You can go on our website at AlvinAiley.org and see the times and dates.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is known for the signature dance routine called “Revelations.” What is the significance of this piece?

I think Mr. Ailey was a genius for choreographing “Revelations.” He was born in Texas, and attended a Baptist church — so “Revelations” has a lot to do with his upbringing and his childhood memories. It really takes you on an emotional rollercoaster, You see how impactful it is at first. Then there is beauty in the piece. There is a baptism at the end and you are in church. The clapping and jumping excites the audience to rise to their feet and people really get into it.

What encouraging words would you share with other African Americans who desire to be a professional dancer?

I would tell them to keep at it and never give up. I started dancing when I was thirteen because I saw someone who looked like me dancing. So it inspired me to dance and take it seriously as a career.

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