In the dance world
there are many fine performances but what the Alvin Ailey American Dance
Theater offers is an event – a tour de force of ballet
that leaves audiences excited and awed. Alvin Ailey, born in Texas in
1931, was a dancer and creator with a vision. His vision was to celebrate
through dance the uniqueness of the African American cultural experience.
It has been said
that ‘ the mighty oak tree sleeps in the acorn’ and so it
was with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater which started from quiet,
humble beginnings with a small performance in March 1958 at the 92nd
street YMCA in New York. Today, AAADT has performed for 23 million people
in 48 U.S. states and 71 countries. The company has been designated
a ‘vital American cultural ambassador to the world ‘ by
the U.S. Congress.
a former dancer, close Ailey friend and creative dance force has been
the Artistic Director since 1969 when appointed by Ailey himself. The
performance program featured a colorful, rhythmic and fast paced collection
of works that were captivating. With every great performance there are
no dull or repetitive moments, only a surge of ever expanding creative
invention that leaves the audience at the peak of artistic enjoyment.
The evening opened
with a short and fascinating biographical film account of Alvin Ailey
and the life of the company. This was an important introduction since
AAADT is not only a dance experience but an important cultural one as
well – and this is one of the secrets to the rich cultural and
audience success of the company.
The program opened
with Memoria (1979) choreographed by Ailey and featuring the
entire 18 member company. Then came the electrifying Cry (1971)
choreographed by Ailey and dedicated to Black women everywhere. The
piece was performed with soaring emotion and technical grace by Rachael
McLaren who hails from Winnipeg, Constance Stamatiou and Briana Reed.
McLaren personifies beauty in motion with her elegant and confidant
(2001) was choreographed by Robert Battle who is the artistic director
designate of the company. This evocative, lively and earthy work is
a dance spectacle that brings forth the best of modern dance. The six
male dancers: Clifton Brown, Antonio Douthit, Yannick Lebrun, Kirven
James Boyd, Glenn Allen Sims and Jamar Roberts dance with power, strength
and yet maintain the beauty of movement that is essential to captivating
has powerful tribal overtones that evoke deep emotions that are enhanced
by a musical score featuring “Jungle Jazz” by L. Blomme
and music by Les Tambours du Bronx. Antonio Douthit, who was born in
St. Louis, is a particularly impressive, beautiful and energetic dancer
to watch. Douthit embodies the boundless energy and technical mastery
from which all great dancers spring.
The signature piece
of the evening was the masterpiece, Revelations choreographed
by Ailey in 1960. The tour de force work featuring several dance pieces
is a cultural, ballet and musical walk through the African-American
cultural experience. The performances by different company members and
at times the whole company was brilliant and masterful. Dance is not
just seen with the Alvin Ailey dancers but more importantly - felt.
Particular standouts were Yannick Lebrun; Glenn Allen Sims, Olivia Bowman
Jackson; Hope Boykin, Amos J. Machanic, Jr.; Linda Celeste Sims and
The final piece,
Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham featured the entire company.
The music was adapted and arranged by Howard A. Roberts. This hyper-
energetic and fun piece had the dancer’s truly exuding joy as
they moved and engaged the entire audience who clapped enthusiastically.
For AAADT, this
is the first appearance in Vancouver in a generation and brought a rich
appreciation to the audience of the rich cultural roots and spectacular
dance that makes the company deserving of its shining fame.
Ailey American Dance Theater: Interviews
Douthit and Rachael McLaren
by Michael Pink
'Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater' makes a much heralded visit to
Vancouver in March for an evening of modern ballet that promises to
shine with artistic brilliance. Two of the dancers to watch are the
dynamic Antonio Douthit and the elegant Rachael McClaren who was raised
in Winnipeg. reviewVancouver caught up with the dancers recently for
interviews to learn more about their dance world and the amazing Alvin
Antonio Douthit Photo: Andrew Eccles
Tell us about your early life and dance training.
AD: My childhood was not
always easy. I lived in a shelter for a short time at Hope House with
my mother. I didn’t play sports but was always active in the neighbourhood
and loved to play in the park. One day while hanging out with friends
I walked by a classroom where they were teaching dance. The teacher
invited me to come and I went the next day and loved the movement.
MP: You describe COCA
(Center of Contemporary Arts) in St. Louis where you grew up as a turning
point in your life and dance.
AD: Absolutely. One of
the teachers saw some talent and took me to COCA to meet Lee Nolting
who was a mentor and inspiration. She is an amazing lady and teacher.
She believed in me and arranged a full scholarship at COCA.
MP: What was it like to
suddenly be in a major dance school?
AD: Going to COCA was
a little scary at first. At sixteen I took master dance classes, I had
to learn everything and basically catch up to dancers who had been training
MP: tell us about your
first experience with Alvin Ailey.
AD: When I was sixteen,
Alvin Ailey did a dance show at the Fox Theatre and I went so see them
perform their signature piece, Revelations. This was the first time
to see a professional dance performance. It was extraordinary. Then
I knew I had to be a dancer. To dance one day with Alvin Ailey became
MP: This was a transformative
experience for you.
AD: Totally. I knew I
wanted to be a part of this. It took control of my life. Dance became
MP: Tell us about your
life now with Alvin Ailey.
AD: Our company is unique.
Judith Jamieson, (the artistic director) is an awesome woman. Being
in the room with her is incredible because of her spirit for dance and
teaching. We are on the road several months a year and do a five week
run in New York each year. As a dancer, we do training generally from
noon to 7pm Monday to Friday. We will have a class before every performance
to be warmed up.
MP: Dancers often deal
with injury and pushing physical boundaries.
AD: It is true. We can
be in so much pain before the show but the magic of dance is that once
the curtain goes up the adrenalin flows and it feels great.
MP: You have talked about
the many people who helped your career and dream.
AD: Sometimes as a kid
you don’t realize at the time all the help you are getting, the
lunches, the rides, the equipment. I had more than a village to help
me and feel very appreciative. When my Mother saw me dance at COCA,
she was overjoyed and cried. It made me realize that I was doing something
worthwhile. When you touch someone it makes you feel special.
MP: Can you give us your
personal reflections on being a dancer. You also have a popular video
out called, ‘I Am a Dancer’ that is a touching portrait
of you and your dance.
AD: Dance is fuel for
the soul. I would feel lost without dance. When I found dance, I found
myself. This is my career. I have come to a place where I want to take
the audience into the world of dance.
Rachael McLaren Interview
Rachael McLaren Photo: Andrew Eccles
Tell us about your early dance training.
RM: Winnipeg is where
I grew up and my dance training started at age five. As I danced, the
passion for dance grew. All I remember when young is watching ballroom
dancing and gymnastics and loved anything with movement and expression.
I also loved music. It spoke to me. Ballet is special and always connected
MP: How was your experience
at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School as a young student.
RM: I always wanted to
learn. It was very competitive but I loved it. I went to train with
the Royal Winnipeg Ballet company school general division. Jackie Davidson
was my mentor and teacher and Evelyn Hart was an inspiration.
MP: What was your artistic
path to Alvin Ailey in New York?
RM: Jackie suggested the
Alvin Ailey School when I was in high school, about 16 years old. I
auditioned for Julliard and in Boston. I was accepted at the Alvin Ailey
School after auditioning and started training at the school at 17. It
was amazing to be around all these dancers. It was like being exposed
to all these great foreign languages.
How your experience at Alvin Ailey 2, the junior performing company?
RM: I joined at nineteen.
The school is a stepping stone to other companies. It was established
by Alvin Ailey in 1974 for young dancers. You tour nationally and internationally.
It is typically a two year posting for dancers. It was a huge experience.
MP: It appears that you
are the first Canadian dancer to be in Alvin Ailey.
RM: That’s true.
There was another dancer in Ailey 2 who was Canadian but to my knowledge,
I am the first one to be in the Alvin Ailey Company, which I joined
MP: You will be dancing
a solo in Cry, choreographed by Ailey in 1971.
RM: This is a heart wrenching,
empowering piece for mothers everywhere. The solo was written for Judith
Jamieson who was close to Ailey. It is usually a solo work but with
this tour we use different dancers doing the piece in three different
What is your vision of dance?
RM: For me, dance has
ignited my passion for life. Dance is about sharing and teaching. The
energy of dance is special.