(Photo by Andrew Eccles, courtesy AAADT)
Linda Celeste Sims’ nearly 20-year career with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has been characterized by grace, power and awe-inspiring stage presence. The NYC native graduated from the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and earned a contract with Ballet Hispanico right after graduation. Two years later she joined AAADT. Since then, she’s performed at the White House, on “So You Think You Can Dance” and at galas and festivals around the globe. In 2014, Sims received a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for her work with AAADT. This month, catch her in featured roles in Alvin Ailey’s Blues Suite and Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera during the company’s New York City Center season.
My Beloved Linda,
To be a dancer, you must be courageous! I’m going to be honest with you: Dance is one of the most difficult, challenging—and rewarding—professions out there. You’ll struggle with not being the best, and you’ll face impatience, doubt, insecurity, frustration and jealousy, as well as a constant need for perfection and attention. But you can overcome all this.
Use your emotions for good. Try to become stronger each day. Think positively and make the studio a retreat where you can escape and focus on yourself. Negativity is not a place of happiness. Positive competition is good, but don’t ever look in the mirror and think, Why don’t I look like her? God made us all different, so each of us has something special and unique to say with our gifts.
Through dance, you will discover who you really are, and you’ll learn to cope gracefully with your obstacles. Dance will teach you self-control, self-discipline, patience and dedication. You’ll eventually find freedom and joy in dance. But you must believe in yourself.
Most important, don’t ever stop learning, even if you think you’ve arrived at the top. Take care of your body and spend extra time maintaining it, even when you’re tired. On those tired days, remember that you won’t achieve anything with laziness. Quitting is never an option.
Be inspired by all things around you, and always dance from your heart. Be genuine, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable onstage. The stage is your canvas. Paint your story. Use your imagination and create your own voice.
You’re beautiful, even with all your imperfections. Always be grateful for your blessings.
Looking for some dance inspiration? Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is beaming no fewer than FOUR works, including the beloved classic Revelations, to a movie theater near you this Thursday, October 22!
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Linda Celeste Sims in Wayne McGregor's Chroma. Photo by Paul Kolnik
In addition to Revelations, theatergoers and dance lovers alike will also get the chance to view Chroma by Wayne McGregor, Grace by Ronald K. Brown and Takeademe by Robert Battle, AAADT's artistic director.
This screening is part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ exciting new cinema series, Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance, which also includes performances from San Francisco Ballet, Ballet Hispanico and New York City Ballet. Check out the news section of our November issue for more info.
To purchase tickets, visit fathomevents.com or participating theater box offices.
Headed to The Big Apple? The endless number of studios, shops, shows and restaurants can seem overwhelming. Let Dance Spirit and a few NYC dance insiders be your guides.
Clockwise from top left: Alex Lopez/NYC & Company, Clayton Cotterell/NYC & Company, Alex Lopez/NYC & Company, Joe Buglewicz/NYC & Company, Marley White/NYC & Company, Joe Buglewicz/NYC & Company
(Photo by Peter Hurley, courtesy Paloma Garcia-Lee)
Paloma Garcia-Lee: Broadway dancer Garcia-Lee has performed in Phantom of the Opera and Nice Work If You Can Get It. She says: “Follow your workouts with sweaty Yin yoga classes at Modo Yoga NYC. Some of the instructors are also dancers, so you might end up taking with someone you’ll see onstage.”
(Photo by Paul B Goode, courtesy Kaitlyn Gilliland)
Kaitlyn Gilliland: A former New York City Ballet corps member, Gilliland dances with Ballet Next. Her food picks: “Kefi is a great Greek restaurant on the Upper West Side, and Good Enough to Eat is a brunch favorite.”
(Photo courtesy Paul Taylor Dance Company)
Laura Halzack: Halzack is a member of Paul Taylor DanceCompany. Her cure for a sweet tooth: “You have to go to Doughnut Plant near the Taylor Studios at least once. I could eat one of their doughnuts every day—they have unique flavors.”
(Photo by Mathieu Young/FOX, courtesy Alex Wong)
Alex Wong: A “So You Think You Can Dance” All-Star, Wong is a former Newsies dancer. His training tip: “Broadway Dance Center has an ever-changing list of guest teachers. It’s a great way to take class from working choreographers who aren’t always in town.
Are you a ballet dancer? Start your uptown adventure here.
You wake up in the morning craving…
…something hearty. Head to one of NYC’s top bagel joints, ABSOLUTE BAGELS (Broadway, btwn W 107th and W 108th Sts)…something light and nutritious. Grab a cold-pressed juice and a yogurt parfait from JUICE PRESS (W 82nd St, btwn Columbus Ave and Central Park West).
(Logo courtesy Steps on Broadway)
You’re ready for your first class of the day. You head…
…right to the barre. “Take advanced ballet with Wilhelm Burmann or Nancy Bielski at STEPS ON BROADWAY,” Gilliland says (W 74th St and Broadway)…to Pilates first. Take a mat class at UPTOWN PILATES (W 72nd St, btwn Amsterdam and Columbus Aves). Now I’m ready for ballet...Take Kathryn Sullivan’s class at STEPS ON BROADWAY. She stresses proper placement and quick footwork.
How’s the weather today?
The sun is shining. Catch some rays in RIVERSIDE PARK on Manhattan’s West Side (Along Riverside Dr, from W 72nd to W 158th Sts). It’s raining. Head to PINKY’S SALON, Gilliland’s favorite spot for a manicure (Columbus Ave, btwn W 74th and W 75th Sts). Hot! But it’s perfect in the shade. Walk to CENTRAL PARK. Stroll through John Lennon’s memorial, Strawberry Fields, for a break from NYC’s hustle and bustle (Near W 72nd St and Central Park West).
Metropolitan Museum of Art (photo by Joe Buglewicz/NYC & Company)
Is that your stomach grumbling?
Let’s stay in the neighborhood. “ ’WICHCRAFT, across from the David H. Koch Theater, serves indulgent sandwiches and tasty cookies,” Gilliland says (W 62nd St and Broadway). I want to explore the East Side. Grab a falafel from a street vendor and have lunch on the stairs of THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART—then head inside to see some of the exhibits (5th Ave and E 82nd St).
When it comes to afternoon adventures, you prefer to…
…stay outdoors. Walk to the BOAT BASIN CAFE and enjoy a lemonade while looking
out over the Hudson River (W 79th St, in Riverside Park)…find the nearest museum. Visit the Hayden Planetarium at the AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (Central Park West and W 79th St)…get sweaty! Sign up for a “Figure 4 Barre” conditioning class at PURE YOGA, where many of the instructors are former dancers (E 86th St, btwn 2nd and 3rd Aves).
Let’s stop for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Indulge my sweet tooth! Stop by TREAT HOUSE and grab some gourmet crispy treats (Amsterdam Ave, btwn W 81st and W 82nd Sts). I’m thirsty. Sip an iced tea at CAFE LALO (W 83rd St, btwn Broadway and Amsterdam Aves).
Ready for an early dinner before a show?
I want lots of options. Head to ZABAR’S CAFE for some tasty deli specialties (Broadway and W 81st St). I’m on a tight budget. Grab a $1 hot dog (or two!) at GRAY’S PAPAYA (Broadway and W 72 St).
On clear summer nights, enjoy a free LINCOLN CENTER OUT OF DOORS show with music and dance from around the globe (Columbus Ave at W 63rd St).
Do you dream of Broadway? Start your midtown tour here.
What’s your preferred morning meal?
I’m a full-breakfast kind of girl. Try a savory breakfast pie from PIE FACE (Broadway and W 53rd St). Something small and to-go. Order a croissant from GREGORYS COFFEE—one of Garcia-Lee’s favorite spots for a morning fix (W 44th St and 6th Ave).
Whether I’ll be tapping, strutting or popping…
…I need a soothing warm-up. Wake up your senses in a Gyrotonic session at CIRCULAR POWER INC (7th Ave, btwn W 54th and W 55th Sts)…my day starts with an intense workout. Sweat, tone and feel the burn in a dance-inspired PHYSIQUE 57 class (W 57th St, btwn 5th and 6th Aves)…nothing gets me centered like a ballet class. Take Deborah Wingert’s class at MANHATTAN MOVEMENT & ARTS CENTER. “I always take ballet at MMAC,” Wong says. “The studios are beautiful” (W 60th St, btwn Amsterdam and 11th Aves).
Now I’m warm!
(Logo courtesy Broadway Dance Center)
I want to really let go. Learn a detailed contemporary jazz combo in Slam’s mid-morning class at BROADWAY DANCE CENTER (W 45th St, btwn 8th and 9th Aves). I want a technical challenge. Take Sue Samuels’ Broadway jazz class at BROADWAY DANCE CENTER.
Yes! Let’s get lunch. “GREEN SYMPHONY is my favorite quick stop,” says Garcia-Lee. Try a veggie wrap or a kale salad (W 43rd St, btwn 7th and 8th Aves). I could go for a small snack. Head to the signature NYC grocery store DEAN & DELUCA (W 56th St, btwn 6th and 7th Aves).
Time for some sightseeing.
Let’s stay outside. Tour the CENTRAL PARK ZOO and visit the two super-cute snow leopard cubs (E 64th St and 5th Ave). Let’s go to a museum. Soak in the bizarre and the beautiful at THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (W 53rd St, btwn 5th and 6th Aves).
What’s on your afternoon agenda?
I can’t leave NYC without doing a little window shopping. Stroll down 5TH AVE for the best displays in town (5th Ave, btwn E 59th and E 42nd Sts). I’m ready for some fun cardio. While THE AILEY SCHOOL is known as a mecca for modern dance, its ZUMBA FITNESS classes are some of the most popular in NYC (W 55th St and 9th Ave). I want to get cheap Broadway tickets. Head to the TKTS BOOTH in Times Square. Garcia-Lee’s advice: “Get in line early!” (Broadway and 47th St).
I’m starving! Before a night on the town, I want…
…a trendy dinner. “Get the Adobe Salad from EATERY,” says Garcia-Lee. “It’s my favorite salad in Hell’s Kitchen” (W 53rd and 9th Ave)…a classic pastrami sandwich. Go to CARNEGIE DELI for sandwiches big enough to split with a friend (W 55th St and 7th Ave).
New York City Center (photo by Aislinn Weidele/Ennead Architects)
Head to THE GREAT WHITE WAY. Check out our “Broadway Show Guide” to see what’s playing. See what musicals may be Broadway-bound at “Encores! Off-Center” at NEW YORK CITY CENTER (W 55th St, btwn 6th and 7th Aves).
Are you a downtown diva? Modern or contemporary dancers, start here.
I always start the day with…
…fruits and veggies. Try a PB Açai Bowl and a green juice from JUICE GENERATION (Prince and Crosby Sts, in the Equinox Gym)…a protein-filled punch. Head to DAVID’S BAGELS for one of the city’s best egg-and-cheese sandwiches (1st Ave, btwn E 15th and E 16th Sts).
Let’s get moving!
A modern class starts my day on a positive note. Take class from Paul Taylor Dance Company members at THE TAYLOR SCHOOL (Grand St, btwn Jackson and Lewis Sts). I’m craving a full-body workout. Hop into a conditioning session with Rachel Piskin at CHAISEFITNESS (E 23rd St, btwn Madison and Park Aves). I want to sweat before dance class. Try a spin class at SOULCYCLE (SoHo location: Crosby St, btwn Spring and Broome Sts).
(Logo courtesy Gibney Dance)
Now I’m ready for class.
I want to explore a postmodern style. See who’s leading a contemporary workshop at the new downtown GIBNEY DANCE CENTER (Broadway and Chambers St).
(Photo courtesy Peridance Capezio Center)
I want something classic. Get a lesson in Limón Technique at THE PERIDANCE CAPEZIO CENTER (E 13th St, btwn 3rd and 4th Aves).
Time for lunch!
Let’s get a burger. Head to SHAKE SHACK—and try a custard, too. “My favorite is the Urban Lumber-Shack,” says Wong. “It’s vanilla custard with Belgian waffles, bananas, bacon and peanut brittle” (Madison Square Park, E 23rd St and Madison Ave). I love PB & Js. Try a crazy concoction from PEANUT BUTTER & CO., like The Heat Is On Sandwich: spicy peanut butter with grilled chicken and pineapple jam (Sullivan St, btwn Bleecker and W 3rd Sts).
Let’s get lunch outside.
I want to head downtown. Take the subway to the newly renovated SOUTH STREET SEAPORT (Pier 17, at Fulton and Front Sts). I want something fresh. Taste locally sourced produce and baked goods as you stroll through the UNION SQUARE GREENMARKET (E 14th St and Broadway). OK, but let’s go for a ride first. Pedal a CitiBike across the BROOKLYN BRIDGE and get a pizza from GRIMALDI’S (Front
and Old Fulton Sts).
Next, I’d like to...
…take a moment to reflect. Visit the new WORLD TRADE CENTER and The National September 11 Memorial & Museum (Albany and Greenwich Sts)… see the sights. You can take the free ferry to Staten Island and enjoy incredible views of THE STATUE OF LIBERTY (Hop the 1 train to South Ferry station).
For an afternoon break, I want to…
Washington Square Park (photo by LittleNY/Thinkstock)
…hang out with friends. Listen to street musicians in WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK (5th Ave, btwn W 4th St and Waverly Pl)…get something sweet. Visit the home of the original cronut—a croissant and doughnut hybrid—DOMINIQUE ANSEL BAKERY (Spring St, btwn Sullivan and Thompson Sts).
Before a show, I want…
…something hearty. “THE MEATBALL SHOP is fun, and not crazy-expensive,” says Halzack. “I love the traditional Bolognese Ball” (Greenwich Ave, btwn W 11th and Perry Sts)…dessert for dinner! “CHIKALICIOUS DESSERT BAR in the East Village has the best desserts in the world,” says Wong. “And the owners are big dance supporters” (E 10th St, btwn 1st and 2nd Aves).
See companies including Pilobolus and RIOULT Dance NY this summer at THE JOYCE THEATER (8th Ave, btwn W 18th and W 19th Sts). For the latest postmodern and contemporary work, head to DANSPACE PROJECT (E 10th St and 2nd Ave).
Jacqueline Green in Ronald K. Brown's Grace (photo by Pierre Wachholder, courtesy AAADT)
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green is a classically elegant dancer who moves with a deep soulfulness—and her quick rise through the ranks has cemented her place in the spotlight. An Ailey/Fordham BFA Program graduate, and a former Ailey II dancer, she’s been an Ailey company member since 2011. In 2014, she received a dance fellowship from the Princess Grace Foundation-USA and last year she was a Clive Barnes Award nominee. Catch her this spring in Ailey’s 20-city North American tour before she heads back to NYC, where she’ll perform lead roles in the company’s Lincoln Center season, June 8–19. And read on for The Dirt! —Courtney Bowers
Who's your dance role model?
ALL of my coworkers! I admire them for many different reasons. I've seen how hard they work and what they deliver on stage. I'm proud to say I dance with them.
Is there anything that makes you nervous?
I can perform in front of thousands comfortably, but a flight to Europe can make me anxious.
What's your favorite dance movie?
I love the classics so... 1987's Dirty Dancing. I've actually been 'Baby' practicing salsa on the subway platform.
Who can always make you laugh?
My family! No matter what. My grandmother is the funniest of them all.
Do you have any nicknames?
Jackie, Jax, K, Jackie Green Day, Three :)
What's your advice for other young performers?
Always remember why you started and why you continue. It can get tough sometimes, but if you stay inspired, the tough part becomes smaller.
What's your biggest guilty pleasure?
A signature slice from Make My Cake!!!
Who's your dance crush?
Mr. Matthew Rushing! My company knows this for sure. He is simply amazing!
Do you have any pre-performance habits or superstitions?
I love to have a quiet moment and touch my hands to the marley before the curtain goes up.
What are your pet peeves?
Spatially unaware people…it’s the New York in me.
What one thing can’t you live without?
Coconut oil! It has so many uses: moisturizer, makeup remover, chapstick, cooking oil, lotion, etc.
What’s the most-played song on your playlist?
Right now it has to be Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright!”
What’s something no one knows about you?
I have recently become a huge fan of Korean TV dramas.
If you could work with any performer, past or present, who would it be?
Michael Jackson or Alvin Ailey
What do you love most about being an Ailey dancer?
Everything! But recently, I love how people react when you tell them you’re an Ailey dancer.
What’s your most-watched TV show?
I love love LOVE “Martin,” “Sex and the City,” “The Nanny” and all things Shonda Rhimes!
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
According to my middle school yearbook, a famous dancer, pediatrician or veterinarian.
Who would play you in a movie?
If I had a choice, Dorothy Dandridge or Angela Bassett
What’s something you’re most proud of?
I’m most proud of my relationships with my family and closest friends. I feel so fortunate and blessed to have them in my life.
It's time Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's annual Lincoln Center season, and we couldn't be more excited. The company always delivers, thanks in large part to its roster of incredible dancers—including Jacquelin Harris, who is cast in Mauro Bigonzetti's Deep, set to premiere on June 10. (If you live in the NYC area, enter our giveaway for your chance to win a pair of tickets!) Harris spoke with DS about the new work, its music, the rehearsals and what she's learned along the way.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Jacquelin Harris (photo by Andrew Eccles, courtesy AAADT)
Dance Spirit: What has the process been like while rehearsing Deep? Have you worked with Mauro Bigonzetti before?
Jacquelin Harris: This was my first time working with Mauro since I've been in the company, but he has a long rapport with AAADT. Choreographers often will come into the studio with a work already created, to help speed up the process. But Mauro is very interested in the relationship between the dancer and choreographer—no movement was created prior to meeting the dancers. He wanted to see what he could bring out in us, and how we interacted with each other. It's really detailed and personalized, and if the dancers had their own visions, he was very open to listening.
DS: Did the way you rehearse change at all while working with him?
JH: Definitely. Working with Mauro has shown me that what I bring to the rehearsal is just as important is what the choreographer brings—it's okay for me to bring my creative intuition.
DS: What's your role in Deep?
JH: My character is balancing on the precipice. She's trying not to fall over the edge, into the "deep." She's trying to hang on to what everyone around her is hanging onto. There are a number of times where I almost go over the edge of the stage, then get pulled back by the other dancers.
DS: Can you talk a little bit about the music?
JH: It's beautiful. It's so soulful, sung by the duo Ibeyi. You can hear their emotions through the way they say their words, which really helps us with our movements.
DS: What have been some of the most enlightening moments of the whole experience?
JH: When we first ran the whole piece, there was something groundbreaking about the way it all fit together. With Mauro, you learn a piece or a section and practice it over and over, trying to make it seamless and figure out what needs to be done in order to make it work as a collective. There's a lot of partnering, and the piece is all about relationships with your partner and everyone else on the stage. And once you run it from top to bottom [after rehearsing all these sections], you understand how it all fits together. Everyone was clapping and cheering, and it was a great feeling.
Catch Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, June 8–19!
It's been a little over a year since Ailey II member Annellyse Munroe graced the February 2015 cover of DS with two of her fellow company members, Samantha Barriento and Shay Bland. It was immediately clear that the talent runs deep in Ailey II, and the year that lay ahead would bring a ton of incredible challenges and opportunities for the dancers. This has certainly proved true for Munroe, who's gearing up for three premieres this upcoming season, running from March 30–April 10. DS caught up with her to hear how she's progressed, some standout moments and more.
Live near NYC? Don't miss Ailey II! Enter our ticket giveaway for the "Returning Favorites" program, featuring Hissy Fits, Breakthrough and Wings on April 3rd at The Ailey Citigroup Theater in NYC.
Munroe in all her graceful glory in our February 2015 issue (photo by Erin Baiano)
Dance Spirit: When you last spoke with us for the cover story, you said you'd never had the chance to perform a rep like the one you were experiencing at Ailey II. How have these new pieces challenged you?
Annellyse Munroe: This year, I've had the opportunity to work with three choreographers who are all so varied and different in their teaching styles, and it's been amazing. I'm dancing in three new works, which is very exciting.
Jean Emile's In & Out is a very personal piece to the choreographer, as it's about the ups and downs of contemporary life. It's so different from anything Ailey II has done, with a very upbeat pace and elements of comedy. I perform a duet in it, and I think the story is lovely—it's an audience pleaser, for sure.
The second new work is Ray Mercer's Something Tangible. It truly connected all of the dancers during rehearsal. The synergy is really evident—it's all about encountering love, fear and self-doubt. We were given this opportunity to get on the stage and just have fun and be free. That's what Mercer wanted, and it's really powerful to see.
The third new piece I'm in is Kyle "JustSole" Clark's I Am the Road. It's a hip-hop/house piece, which is new for Ailey II, so it's awesome that I was given this opportunity. The work is about his life as a dancer, so again it's very personal to the choreographer, which makes dancing it that much more special. It's high-energy and so much fun.
DS: How has your mentality shifted over the past year as you've settled into the company?
AM: I feel much more confident as a dancer and person. Going onstage isn't nearly as nerve-wracking as it used to be—it's all about sharing with and connecting to my audience. Being a second-year in Ailey II is very much like being a role model for the younger dancers, and the energy is fantastic. We all get along so well.
Ailey's next top model (photo by B. O'Brien for Bloomberg Businessweek)
DS: What are a few standout moments from the past year?
AM: I had the chance to venture into the fashion world, with a feature in Bloomberg Businessweek along with my fellow company member, Lloyd Boyd III. We modeled these comfy, slouchy business pants for a photo essay. Getting to show off fashion while dancing was so much fun. Lloyd and I were also just in a conceptual dance video for singer Maxwell's new song, "Roses." At his Valentine's Day show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, they projected the video behind him. It was crazy and emotional to see ourselves dancing on this huge screen, and even crazier because people in the audience recognized us!
DS: What's a piece of advice you want to share with our readers?
AM: You have to be your own supporter. At the end of the day, you really do only have yourself. So go into the studio and prepare for each day with the mindset that you're the one in charge of your future and furthering your professional career.
It’s the last hour of an exhausting, all-day Ailey II rehearsal. Troy Powell, the company’s artistic director, has just called for a five-minute break. But the dancers, busy fine-tuning Powell’s lyrical The External Knot, don’t even pause. Instead, their voices lower, and they continue working out the difficult choreography on their own. So much for a break.
The dancers know they need to make the most of every minute. Ailey II, a training and touring offshoot of the iconic Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, only contracts dancers for one to two years—and that’s a lot of pressure. The natural next step for Ailey II dancers is AAADT, but while many dream of joining the main company’s ranks, few actually do.
Even those who don’t make it into the first company, though, get an invaluable crash course in professional dance life. Powell, who became Ailey II’s second-ever director in 2012, has a new vision for the troupe. Its dancers are now experiencing more, and more varied, repertoire than ever before. The company’s structure teaches dancers how to coach as well as how to perform. And a busy touring schedule allows the members of Ailey II to share their talents with fans all over the world.
(From top) Barriento, Munroe and Bland in costume for Troy Powell's The External Knot (photo by Erin Baiano)
A New Wave
Established in 1974 by Alvin Ailey himself, Ailey II recently underwent some major changes. Two and a half years ago, Powell took the reins from longtime director Sylvia Waters (who was hand-picked by Ailey to lead the troupe), and he’s been busy shaking things up—mainly by expanding the company’s repertory. “This generation is all about the new, the contemporary and the European cutting-edge,” he says. “I want my dancers to be able to do anything when they leave—whether that’s joining AAADT, going to Broadway or entering another contemporary dance company.”
In that spirit, Powell has brought in a wide range of choreographers, including European phenom Manuel Vignoulle and postmodern dancemaker Adam Barruch, to create new work for Ailey II. But he isn’t letting go of the company’s time-honored works, either, like Ailey’s Streams and Revelations. “It’s about balance,” he says. “In order to keep the company alive—and to please audiences—you have to do the new work. But the traditional work helps dancers grow as artists. It’s a huge challenge to do both old and new work in one evening.”
Powell, who trained at the Ailey School, remembers being in his dancers’ shoes. He was a member of Ailey II, and spent 10 years in AAADT before becoming resident choreographer and then artistic director of the second company. He hopes his dancers may one day follow in his footsteps and become leaders, too. “In the future, my dancers may be asked to direct a company, run a rehearsal—or they may even be in my seat,” he says. “And you have to train for those things. So their experience in Ailey II isn’t just about performing.”
Second-year dancers get the biggest dose of leadership experience: They’re expected to help the newbies learn and fine-tune rep, which in turn teaches them how to coach. “I’m learning to be cognizant of what different dancers need, depending on the work,” says second-year dancer Shay Bland. “It’s definitely fun to see the new dancers perform roles I’ve done and make them their own.”
Shay Bland (photo by Erin Baiano)
The dancers’ close working relationships are also a boon for life on the road. When this season’s tour—which began in September—ends in April, Ailey II will have performed in a total of 38 venues in the U.S. and abroad. That makes for a hectic schedule, but also for a lot of fun. “We’re going to be in France on my birthday,” says first-year member Annellyse Munroe. “I can’t wait!”
Of course, touring isn’t just about seeing the world. Ailey II often travels to smaller cities that AAADT may skip, so its dancers frequently serve as ambassadors for the whole Ailey organization. “We perform for a lot of universities and for people who don’t get to see dance all the time,” Powell says. “I know that when I saw Ailey for the first time, I was so touched. I think a lot of my dancers joined Ailey II for a similar reason—so they could reach people all over the world and share what they’ve learned.”
Looking ahead to the troupe’s next 40 years, Powell wants to keep pushing Ailey II dancers to their limits. “We’ve been gaining popularity as a well-known company—and not just as a second company,” he says. “My ultimate goal is to continue making the statement that while Ailey II is a second company, it’s certainly not second-rate.”
Samantha Barriento (photo by Erin Baiano)
Want to Join Ailey II?
Ailey II functions like a close-knit family. Many of its dancers trained at the Ailey School before being invited to audition for the company (yup, you have to be invited). Both Samantha Barriento and Shay Bland, for instance, studied there as teens, and Annellyse Munroe, who grew up in Miami, spent a handful of summers at the Ailey School before artistic director Troy Powell asked her to try out for Ailey II. So while it’s not a prerequisite, if you want to join the Ailey family, putting in some serious training time at the House of Ailey is a plus.
What else does Powell look for in potential Ailey II members? “You need the training—a strong ballet foundation with a solid grasp of Horton and Graham techniques,” he says. “But it’s more than just being talented. I don’t want someone who’s dancing because we told them to. I’m looking for a dancer who’s ready to jump out there and reveal who she is as an artist.” —JD
Hometown: Englewood, NJ
Years in Ailey II: 2
Her journey to Ailey II: She started training at the Ailey School as a freshman in high school. After graduation, she attended Rutgers University, and two years later was offered an apprenticeship with Ailey II. “One night during my year as an apprentice, a dancer got injured before curtain, and I had to go on,” she says. “I learned the role in 20 minutes. It was a wakeup call: I realized I could really make this my career.”
The moment she knew Ailey was it: “I came to dance late. I was into sports—a tomboy. But when I was 13, my mom got Ailey tickets, and I saw Vespers, by Ulysses Dove. Right then and there I decided I didn’t want soccer or tennis anymore. I needed to dance.”
On the pressures of being in Ailey II for only two years: “Some days, it seems like I’m spiraling out of control thinking about the future. But I try to stay in the moment. I don’t want to forget what I’m a part of now. If I’m able to join the first company, it’ll be the biggest honor in the world. But if I’m not, I still appreciate everything this company has given me.”
“She’s a beautiful dancer—very smart, very intuitive. She’s a ‘go get ’em’ type—very much in control of her artistry.” —Troy Powell
Hometown: Miami, FL
Years in Ailey II: 1
Her journey to Ailey II: While in college at Florida’s New World School of the Arts, she performed with the Peter London Global Dance Company. Right before graduating in spring 2014, she auditioned for AAADT. Powell asked her to return the next day to audition for Ailey II.
The moment she knew Ailey was it: “I’d always wanted to be a ballet dancer—I was obsessed with Dance Theatre of Harlem. In 2006, I came to NYC for American Ballet Theatre’s summer intensive, and my aunt took me to see AAADT perform. I saw Ailey’s Quintet and loved it. It felt like the dancers were looking right at me.”
On being a first-year member: “I’ve never really performed rep like this before. Sure, at NWSA we’d do new faculty repertory, but we also presented a lot of classics by Cunningham and Limón. Now, I’m learning pieces like Manuel Vignoulle’s breakthrough and Adam Barruch’s Alchemies—I didn’t even know I was capable of doing this kind of work!”
“It took a minute for Annellyse to get her feet wet and open up, but she’s grown tremendously in such a short amount of time.” —Troy Powell
Hometown: Queens, NY
Years in Ailey II: 1
Her journey to Ailey II: After training at the Ailey School and Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, she graduated from the Ailey/Fordham BFA program in 2014 and spent her last year in college as an Ailey II apprentice.
The moment she knew Ailey was it: “It was my freshman year of high school, and I saw AAADT’s Linda Celeste Sims in Ulysses Dove’s Episodes. That was it for me. I loved the company’s theatricality—the fact that the work was about something more than technique. It makes you feel something.”
On spending so much time on tour: “Sometimes it’s sad to leave home, but it’s also refreshing. When we’re away, the company becomes a family. We watch out for each other, coordinate our meals and hang out at night. It’s so cool.”
“I’ve known Samantha since she was about 12. She has so much natural talent, though she’s also worked so hard to be where she is. In some ways, she reminds me of myself.” —Troy Powell
Annellyse Munroe (photo by Erin Baiano)
Ailey II dancers Shay Bland and Annellyse Munroe both vividly remember seeing Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the first time—in part because they identified with the women onstage. “Growing up as a dancer of color, you don’t really see a lot of dancers who look like you,” Bland says. “To see a stage full of women who did was so inspiring. I thought, If they can do it, I certainly can, too.”
Yet the idea that Ailey II is a company for black dancers only is outdated. Like the main company, it’s becoming more diverse—a trend that’s right in line with Alvin Ailey’s original mission. “Mr. Ailey said, ‘Dance was created by the people, and it should be given back to the people,’ ” Bland explains. “He didn’t say ‘People of color.’ ‘People’ is all-encompassing.” —JD
Photo via pbs.org
By now, you might have heard that the legendary Dr. Maya Angelou passed away last night at 86. And while you're probably most familiar with her work as a civil rights activist and an American author (with masterworks like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), you might not have known she was also a celebrated dancer and singer.
In the 1950s, Angelou was pretty entrenched in the American modern dance scene. She studied modern dance in San Francisco with Anna Halprin—where she met another legend: Alvin Ailey. The two became dance partners and formed an act called Al and Rita. Angelou also performed in a Calypso revue in 1957 Brooklyn, NY, produced by modern dance great Geoffrey Holder—alongside Ailey and Donald McKayle. (Years later, Angelou read her poem "When Great Trees Fall" at Ailey's funeral in 1989, and when McKayle received the prestigious Scripps/ADF Award in 1992, Angelou was there to present the award.)
In 1957, Angelou produced a solo album titled Miss Calypso, and that same year she appeared as herself in the film Calypso Heatwave. You can see a piece of it in this clip from Oprah's "Super Soul Sunday," starting at 1:54.