Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ailey Opening Night: Honoring the Ancestors

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By Sabrina L. Miller, Ailey Aficionado, friend of an Ailey Ambassador

I’m lucky—I’ve been going to see Alvin Ailey AmericanDance Theater since I was a kid.

My mother was a huge modern dance fan who was unrepentant in dragging me –willingly—all over the city to see every local and national dance company she loved—Joseph Holmes, Darlene Blackburn, Muntu, Martha Graham, Joffrey, among others, and, of course, Alvin Ailey. Sometimes my dad or my sister would join us. But the deep love for the dance—bordering obsession, probably—was something very special that my Mother and I shared. So, I’m lucky. My love for Ailey was developed early.

I’ve carried this love for Ailey and passed it on to many others everywhere I’ve lived in the country—and the world. I lived in Florida for a decade, spread between Tampa Bay and Miami, and I never, ever missed Ailey’s stops there, and always made sure I took others who had not yet experienced the beauty and the genius. Often, I’d attend every performance—or I’d attend as many performances as my budget would accommodate.

I haven’t missed “Ailey Week” at the Auditorium Theatre...well, ever. Certainly not in the last 13 years. I’ll never forget Ailey Week in 2000 because my grandmother—my mother’s mother—died the day before opening night. Mom, Dad and I already had tickets so we went. By the time “Fix Me, Jesus” was being performed in “Revelations,” my mother and I had a moment where we looked at each other, tears streaming down both of our faces, and we smiled. Without speaking a word, we both felt the spirit of my grandmother with us, and despite our sorrow we felt comfort in her transition, as she had now become one of the ancestors Alvin Ailey was thinking of when he created this great work.

It is a poignant, indelibly etched memory, because it was the last Ailey performance I would share with my mother—she died unexpectedly a month later.

When Ailey week rolled around in 2001, I was ambivalent. I didn’t know if I was emotionally ready to experience Ailey without the woman who gave me life—the very person who gave life to my lifelong love for the dance and for Ailey itself. But I soldiered through. And at the end of Revelations, with tears streaming down my face, I blew kisses to the air, thinking of my mother, my grandmother, Mr. Ailey – all ancestors now, and part of the continuum and narrative of Black life that he envisioned...

Ailey Week, for me, is never just about me. It’s about celebrating the ancestors. It’s about celebrating my mother. I take great comfort and joy in what has become a ritual for me. That the 2013 series has been expanded to two weeks is phenomenal and fitting—Chicago loves Ailey and has always supported the Auditorium Theatre. It is a perfect marriage, and the commitment and enthusiasm of Auditorium Theatre Executive Director Brett Batterson to Ailey Week is contagious. One cannot help but to heed his call to spread the word.

Opening night was spectacular, of course, featuring the relatively new (2012) “Another Night”, choreographed by Kyle Abraham. Electric in its movement and colors, and classic with the accompaniment of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” performed by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. The masterful paean to the body “Petite Mort” followed, and Ailey Artistic Director Robert Battle’s intimate “Strange Humors” came next. But the star of the show, of course, is the triumphant “Revelations”—for which we saw a mix of beloved veterans (Linda Celeste Sims) as well as newcomers to the company.

I’m not a formal “Ailey Ambassador” but I feel like one because I never miss an opportunity through good, old word-of-mouth or, now, using social media, to spread the word. My only quibble with this year’s series is that I wish they were performing MORE Ailey-choreographed pieces. I’m incredibly disappointed that “Cry” is not in the lineup this year, and that the only Ailey-choreographed piece outside of “Revelations” is “Pas de Duke.” I certainly appreciate all the efforts to stay current while honoring the classics, but veteran Ailey fans and new ones alike would benefit from seeing that Alvin Ailey’s choreographic genius extends well beyond “Revelations.”

Nonetheless, I look forward to going back several more times before Ailey leaves next Sunday. Mom wouldn’t want it any other way.

Click HERE for tickets and information on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's 2013 run at the Auditorium Theatre.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Returning to the Auditorium, by Ailey Dancer Sarah Daley

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's
Sarah Daley. Photo be Eduardo Patino.
I've been dancing since I was about 5 years old. I was a an active kid, always underfoot, so my mom thought dance class would be a good place to put me. I've stuck with it ever since.

This is my second season with Ailey. Previously, I was in Ailey II for two years and am a graduate of the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. 

Being with Ailey has given me the opportunity to tour to and perform in some really amazing places I might not have been able to see on my own. My favorites so far have to be Copenhagen, Denmark;  Paris, France; and Tel Aviv, Israel. All three cities are beautiful in such different ways. What they all have that appeal to me are the rich histories they carry that you can see simply by walking around and looking at the architecture. Being able to visit places I've only read about and then stumbling on a hidden gem only the locals know of can happen all in the span of a day. The people I would meet on a daily basis were friendly, warm and eager to share knowledge of their culture to anyone who took the time to listen.  

The Auditorium Theatre holds a very special place in my heart. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago and passionate about dance, I would always have to make the trip to the city to get my fix of professional performances. In the “nosebleeds” of this theater is where I first experienced performances by the Joffery Ballet, The Bolshoi, The Eifman Ballet, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  From the first time I sat in the audience I was hooked. Anytime one of these companies came to Chicago it was an event for my dance friends and me. My mother and teacher would coordinate a trip for our studio, we all dressed in our best clothes (usually adorned with sparkles), chipped in a few dollars weeks before and rented a limo to take us to see the ballet! I remember my friends and I saving money leading up to the trip so at intermission we could buy some soda and candy at concessions and stand around discussing what we had just witnessed. It was all very sophisticated.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Sarah Daley,
Megan Jakel and Rachael McLaren in Ohad Naharin's Minus 16.
Photo by Paul Kolnik
After the performances we would make a mad dash to the alley behind the theater to catch the dancers on their way out and beg with our best puppy dog eyes for their signatures. I still have a program from an Ailey performance in 2002 signed by some of the people I now call coworkers and friends. That still amazes me.

Having the chance to return to this theater, as a company member now, is surreal to me. I happened to be off on our opening night this year and was able to watch the performance from the house, something I haven't done since high school. The weight of what that meant didn't escape me. Coming back to the theater that helped keep my love of concert dance alive, and beginning  a new relationship with it is very special. Chicago has such love for Ailey and I'm lucky that I get to be a part this annual reunion. 

Click HERE for tickets and information on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's 2013 run at the Auditorium Theatre.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sharing My Love of Ailey with Chicago

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By Roderick K. Hawkins

I’ve had a longtime love affair with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. A little more than 20 years ago, this dynamic ensemble made its way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana—my home town—and performed on the campus of Southern University. I was a junior in high school at the time. Even though I was very much a typical teenager who devoted his attention to pursuing popularity, school activities, and socializing, witnessing the beauty of Alvin Ailey literally changed my life.

From the moment they took the stage, these striking, talented and spirited dancers held my attention. I never really fully appreciated the power for dance until I saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I still can’t put into words how I felt when the company performed “Revelations.” What I did know was that, once the performance ended, I would have to see this ensemble again.

Fast forward to 2013 and, as I look around my house, there are elements of Ailey all around. Among my Ailey treasures are: program books from the last several years of Chicago engagements; a framed poster of Judith Jamison performing “Cry”; Alvin Ailey’s autobiography on my bookshelf; the music of “Revelations” on my iPod; and my annual Ailey tour refrigerator magnets in the kitchen. I think it’s safe to say that my house and my heart are truly Aileyfied.    

For the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of supporting the Auditorium Theatre ofRoosevelt University as an Ailey Ambassador—a member of a group of Chicagoans who are committed to building more audiences for Ailey’s Chicago run. This year is no exception. I’m always thrilled to help drive tickets sales and introduce new audiences to the group that is called the “cultural ambassador to the world.” I feel connected to the Ailey legacy when I reach out to my friends and colleagues and encourage them to support the performances.

From March 8-17 Chicago will be lifted by the dancing spirits that are the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I am proud to be among that number and happy that so many people from in and around Chicago will join in welcoming the ensemble to our city. All of us who will attend have a connection to Ailey. For some it’s pure entertainment. For others it’s a celebration of beauty and technique. For me, it’s like welcoming a close member of the family for an extended stay. Alvin Ailey has always been an essential part of my quality of life and I am excited that they are, once again, back in Chicago.

Roderick K. Hawkins is the Vice President of External Affairs for the Chicago Urban League and is an Ailey Ambassador for the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Grace, Minus 16, and Revelations - Alvin Ailey Program C [videos]

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater visits the Auditorium Theatre for 10 performances, March 8-17, 2013. The company will bring several programs, each featuring different pieces from their repertoire.  Learn a bit about the pieces in Program C below!

For tickets and information, click HERE.

***New Production

Grace (new production): Choreographed by Ronald K. Brown
One of the most popular works in the Ailey repertory, Ronald K. Brown’s spellbinding Grace is a fervent tour-de-force depicting individuals on a journey to the promised land.  Described by The New York Times as “astounding, something to be sensed as well as seen,” this spiritually-charged work is a rapturous blend of modern dance and West African idioms.  As in many of Brown’s works, the movement alternates fluidly between extremes, with eruptions of power coupled with lightness.  A serene solo for an angel-like figure in white gives way to fireball intensity as 12 dancers resembling urban warriors execute Brown’s whirling, pounding choreography, arms and legs slicing the air and fingers pointing to the sky.

Brown’s varied music choices closely reflect the heart of the work, with the spiritual grounding of Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday, the contemporary yet timeless house music vibe of Roy Davis’ “Gabriel,” and the West African and African-American traditions of Fela Kuti’s Afro-Pop beats.

Minus 16: Choreographed by Ohad Naharin
Featuring an eclectic score ranging from Dean Martin to mambo, techno to traditional Israeli music, Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 uses improvisation and Naharin’s acclaimed “Gaga” method, a unique movement language that breaks down old habits, pushing the dancers to challenge themselves in new ways.  

The work is unique in the Ailey repertory for removing the barrier between performers and spectators, and inviting members of the audience onstage to become part of the dance. "Minus 16 not only delights in its own wackiness, but also celebrates the joy of dancing,” said the San Francisco Chronicle.

Having spectators join in brings an element of unpredictability and fun that makes each performance of Minus 16 delightfully different. Artistic Director Robert Battle recalled one performance when a woman lost her wig onstage. “When the dancer who was her partner whispered ‘I’m so sorry’ she said, ‘I’m 70 years old and having the time of my life.’”

Revelations: Choreographed by Alvin Ailey
Using African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs and holy blues, Alvin Ailey’s Revelations fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul.  More than just a popular dance work, it has become a cultural treasure, beloved by generations of fans.

Seeing Revelations for the first time or the hundredth can be a transcendent experience, with audiences cheering, singing along and dancing in their seats from the opening notes of the plaintive “I Been ’Buked” to the rousing “Wade in the Water” and the triumphant finale, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”

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