This spring, Yale Dance Theater and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) group are seeking to provide students with a venue for exploring Ailey’s legacy.
“Inheriting Ailey” celebrates the work of dancer Alvin Ailey, who championed African-American expressive forms while simultaneously embracing multiculturalism. It will be conducted by the YDT in partnership with the Ailey Company. For the project, AAADT is licensing excerpts from “Blues Suite” — one of its pieces from the 1950s. The joint venture will also involve Matthew Rushing, a current AAADT dancer-choreographer, and Renee Robinson, a long-time AAADT dancer. Rushing will be choreographing a new piece specifically for the YDT, and Robinson, who danced with Ailey himself, will be teaching regular “Horton Technique” classes. These will teach the foundational modern dance technique that Ailey used — as a way of further exposing them to his aesthetic.
“This year we are shifting our focus to this distinct strand of African-American concert dance of the 20th century through the Ailey legacy, and looking at the ways that it has evolved in the hands of a younger disciple — Matthew Rushing — in the 21st,” said Emily Coates, the Director of the Dance Studies Curriculum at Yale. “The comparative lens is really important.”
Coates explained that the YDT will need to consider Ailey’s “dual vision” of inviting collaboration among a range of dancers and choreographers while at the same time specifically encouraging African-American ones.
Indeed, for the first time the YDT will be witnessing — and participating in — the creation of an entirely new work, dancers said.
YDT member Naomi Roselaar ’17 explained that YDT typically uses choreography that has been performed many times all around the world. In this case, however, she said that the group will be learning an entirely new choreography — a new experience for the group.
“This is the first time a choreographer is coming in and putting his ideas directly on our bodies, rather than having us learning and performing something that has been established elsewhere with other dancers,” Roselaar said.
Another YDT dancer Karlanna Lewis LAW ’15 explained that choreography is “a give and take between the choreographer and the dancers,” adding that this year, YDT members will be directly involved in the process of creation.
The spring 2015 project will be also differ from past projects in that it will feature a full-length performance. In the past, Roselaar explained, performances have been more about appreciating the “process” than displaying a “final product,” attempting to show audiences the various steps that go into the creation of a particular piece. This year, however, the focus will likely shift to the performance itself. Lewis noted that the YDT usually performs excerpts from different pieces and tries to showcase the variety of styles in the choreographer’s repertoire, but added that this year, the project will take the form of “a show [one] might go to at Lincoln Center.”
The performance may incorporate live 20th-century folk music, Coates said, explaining that Rushing envisions a “multifaceted” spectacle that will involve participants from a variety of disciplines. Coates highlighted a number of connections between the piece and the research of Yale faculty members, including Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, whose newly-published book “Jim Crow Wisdom” mentions the Ailey Company and the “Blues Suite” piece.
“[AAADT] is one of the first groups you learn about when you’re a young dancer and trying to look for something other than ballet,” Holly Taylor ’17, another YDT member, said. “They really have a kind of ‘celebrity-status’ as well as a strong artistic record. These are people I’ve admired from afar, and really the epitome of what a strong artistic voice is.”
Auditions for Yale Dance Theatre’s “Inheriting Ailey” will be held Sept. 24, 2015.