The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) began creating and presenting work in 1958. A little over fifteen years later, Ailey 2 was created, giving the school’s graduates an opportunity to perform as young artists. Both companies successfully work to preserve the history of the African-American experience. That work, along with the unmatched talent of their dancers and choreographers, has made them one of the most recognizable names in dance.
Next week, Ailey 2 will take to the Pittsburgh stage, bringing three different dances to the August Wilson Center (AWC). This is particularly exciting, as the AWC is in its first season since their reopening.
The company is now run by Troy Powell who took over as artistic director in 2012. Powell has a long history with the organization. At age nine, he became a student at the school. He later joined Ailey 2 and eventually danced with AAADT for ten years. After working as a resident choreographer and then associate director, he had paid his dance dues and took over for Sylvia Waters as director.
Each of the twelve company members come from the Ailey school; with six men and six women, the dancers range in age from 20-24. The standard of the company has always been to choose high-caliber technicians. But, Powell says his dancers are “willing to go beyond the steps,” that they “reveal themselves” through movement.
The dancers only stay in the company for two years. From there, most move into the AAADT, but a handful have gone on to Broadway, Europe, or into different professions.
Next Tuesday, the company will open the show with a Dwight Rhoden ballet called Hissy Fits (2006), and a new work by Ray Mercer called Something Tangible. The evening will close with Alvin Ailey’s esteemed Revelations, which was called an “American phenomenon” by Oprah Winfrey, and is viewed as a cultural triumph for all who have seen it.
Powell chose Hissy Fits for its contemporary but balletic style. He says the dancers must be “strong-willed and mathematical” to execute Rhoden’s work. The twenty-minute piece features eleven dancers and examines five different couples who are each unsure of their relationship’s fate. The dance is set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Something Tangible is also around 20 minutes in length. Mercer utilized the full cast in a series of six vignettes. Powell says Mercer’s work has a “youthful spirit.” Perhaps that relates to Mercer’s work in the Broadway production of The Lion King. Something Tangible is also about relationships, the love and loneliness we feel with our partners. The music features a range of styles, including percussion, classical, and everything in between.
Revelations was choreographed by Alvin Ailey in the 1960s, and was inspired by his experiences as a black man growing up in Texas. The piece is said to be the most “widely-seen modern dance work in the world” and has been performed in many countries since its creation.
Powell says that when Ailey was alive he always tweaked the piece. Although Powell hasn’t made any changes to the choreography, he says the work evolves with each cast who performs it. Because the piece is based on Ailey’s experiences in the 1930s, he says young dancers “have to put themselves in a position of someone going through different trials and tribulations.”
The Ailey organization considers the black legacy profoundly important, and has therefore passed down that legacy to the students and dancers they teach. Revelations “explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul,” and is set to gospel and blues music, as well as African-American spirituals. Audience members are continually moved deeply by the spiritual experience that is Revelations.
Powell says, “I think that when you see a company like Ailey 2, it will definitely change your perspective. Working with them gives me a full range of understanding as to who they are. They really step up to the plate. They really perform.”
Who: Ailey 2
When: Tuesday, November 10th at 7:30 p.m.
Where: The August Wilson Center, 930 Liberty Avenue, downtown
Cost: Tickets start at $20, click HERE for information and purchasing
***This show is part of the Pittsburgh Dance Council 2015-2016 season. Check out the remaining shows HERE.