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Alvin Ailey Speaking the Universal Language of Dance


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Written by: Cameron Basden
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It is an awe-inspiring experience to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers perform. They are well trained dancers, athletes and artists. Not often known is that some of the dancers also wear “other” hats. Hats that connect to communities, inspire younger generations and promote the fact that dance is for everyone -- every color, economic level and ability. The life skills that are built through these connections are life changing and everlasting.

Alvin Ailey will have one South Florida stop at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Ziff Opera House February 23 to 26 in the midst of their whirlwind, 19-city tour that began in February and will be completed in mid-May.

Two of the Ailey dancers found time to speak about how they connect with communities and what it means to them.

Jamar Roberts is a native Miamian from the neighborhood of the Goulds. That he has become a lead dancer in one of America’s dream companies after very humble beginnings makes him a perfect role model for aspiring dancers.

“Even though I am older now, I think I still have that child-like approach to the work,” he says. “Dance for me was fun. I don’t stress out or get nervous to do a big role.”

That refreshing quality is what he brings to his students. A former student at Dance Empire in Miami, he does a lot of teaching there. Even during time off, he comes to Miami to instruct and to choreograph. “There is so much talent in Miami, especially dance talent. I try to bring as much exposure as I can. When I was young, I wish I had had more exposure to professional dancers, so I feel that is something I can bring.”

On top of performing, he gives master classes whenever and wherever Ailey schedules him. The last class he gave in Miami was at New World School of the Arts, where Roberts was a graduate. “It’s very rare to have time extra time. We are very busy and I don’t rest! This year I am considering a real vacation,” he says laughingly.

Moving in a rather different direction is Ailey dancer Elisa Clark, who is a répétiteur for Ailey artistic director, Robert Battle. A répétiteur is one who is responsible for staging the works of another, usually for universities and professional dance companies. It takes a methodical and organized person, plus one who understands the work and choreographer thoroughly.Clark and Battle have this relationship.

Clark danced with Battle’s first company, Battleworks Dance Company, before joining Ailey four years ago. “We believed in Robert’s [Battle] work and the importance of what he had to say through his choreography,” she says. “I began teaching and assisting him very early on.”

This belief, plus her knowledge of his choreography makes her a perfect fit to be a répétiteur. “Probably the hardest recreation I’ve ever had to do was ‘Mass’ for NWSA. My notes from 12 years ago were a little bit of a mess!” Working with NWSA was extra special because that’s where Battle went to school. Clark feels that working with students is about encouraging them to believe in what’s possible. “We have a positive experience in the studio and then they come to the theater and see everything that we were talking about. It goes to a whole new layer,” Clark says. “It is super rewarding for the students to ‘get it.’”

As performers in Ailey, Roberts and Clark must be focused on performing during their busy Miami schedule.The repertory includes world premieres, company premieres and all-time favorites. In Miami, Roberts is especially looking forward to performing in Kyle Abraham’s new work, “Untitled America.”Dealing with the prison system and its effect on African American families, it has a heavy tone, but is very poetic and beautiful. It has a lot of heart on a subject that is very wrenching.

While Miami loves Ailey and everything they do, “The Winter in Lisbon” will probably particularly resonate with Miami audiences. “It is colorful and fun with a lot of “cha-cha” steps,” says Roberts. “I think Miami will relate; but they will enjoy everything.”

Clark says one of her favorite quotes from Alvin Ailey is, ”The only thing that needs to be separated by color is your laundry.”The diverse and exciting Ailey company still represents that. This company speaks the universal language of dance to everyone - both on the stage and off.

Performances Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. plus Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., differing itinerary for each performance; Arsht Center for the Performing Arts,1300 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; tickets start at $29; www.arshtcenter.org , 305.949.6722.

 


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