Arms and legs intertwine as each dancer’s movement portrays the vivid emotion of the African-American experience. Passion pulses through each gospel melody, pointed toe, and heart-pounding rhythm. There is a story in each dance and a life in each motion.
The world-renowned dance company Ailey II will perform next Monday night, April 9, in the spring Academy Event and lead residency activities for the academic dance classes.
The performance will include a range of pieces by Alvin Ailey, the founder of the dance company, and emerging contemporary choreographers.
Academy Events Coordinator David Howell said, “There will be a wonderful cross-section between some historical works with great significance and choreography, and some exciting new ideas that will inspire our students.” The juxtaposed harmony between pieces choreographed by Alvin Ailey and those by contemporary dancers will forge a stage bearing the uniqueness of African-American heritage and the modernity of contemporary dance.
Most notably among the historical dances, the company will perform Ailey’s signature piece, Revelations. Ailey described it as “a suite of spirituals in three sections.” The first section, Pilgrim of Sorrow, depicts the faith to transcend the heaviness of life’s burden. Take Me to the Water, the second section, recounts Ailey’s own baptismal. The third section, Move Members Move, is set on a Sunday morning in a country church and emphasizes the great faith and joy of the people.
Mr. Howell said that, “Revelations contains messages of hope, inspiration, jubilation [and] happiness in the midst of sorrow [where] most of the choreography is steeped in African American tradition.”
The hearty melodies energize the dancers as they evoke the emotions and unparalleled cultural stories rooted in the symbiotic duet of music and dance.
Fine Arts Department Chair and dance teacher Jennifer Whitcomb and Mr. Howell both applauded the professionalism, energy, and youthfulness of the company. Ms. Whitcomb added, “They don’t hold anything back because they are really climbing and clawing into major companies.”
These ascending dancers, close in age to Deerfield students, provide a lens through which we may see ourselves. Mr. Howell said that the “same kind of drive that characterizes the vast majority of Deerfield students is possessed in these dancers.” He said “that energy, that pride, that joy of being a part of a very long tradition of [Ailey dance]” possessed by Ailey II dancers resonates with the feelings of students about Deerfield tradition.
Nina Shevzov-Zebrun ’12 said, “Everyone can benefit from opening his or her mind to new forms of expression.” She added, “It will be interesting to observe the Ailey II dancers’ technique and style and to try to absorb as much as possible.”
The Alvin Ailey dance style melds African-American culture and stories with modern dance technique in a form that activates each muscle with emotional energy—an energy that flows smoothly at times and strikes staccato at others.
Ailey’s fused style is a product of both his dance background and heritage.
Ailey began formal dance training after being exposed to dance when he attended performances of a ballet and the first African-American modern dance company. He trained with the founder of America’s first racially integrated dance company, Lester Horton. Ailey II utilizes Horton’s modern dance technique and welcomes dancers of all ethnicities.
Ailey explained, “We are really celebrating human beings and we are trying to make an identification with the black past.” He added, “I am a choreographer. I am a black man whose roots are in the sun and the dirt of the South. My roots are in the gospel churches of the South [with their] anthems to the human spirit.”