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Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Essence of Ailey

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”
― Martha Graham

My first introduction to modern dance was at 15 years of age. For an hour every day, for six months, I learned a form so uniquely different than the strictness of ballet that I was mesmerized. There seemed to be an unrestricted free flowing attitude in regards to the movement of modern dance. That if there was a boundary or certain technique you were able to push it with great fortitude and explore other mediums of movement through avant-garde styles of music and multi-media. I recall being gifted the freedom to choreograph with no judgment on the movement, just a pure, selfless expression of who I was emanating through me into boundless turns, free flowing arms, stretches and leaps. A new love of dance awakened inside of me and my love and admiration for forms of modern dance have remained fervent in my heart ever since.

On Sunday afternoon, I and four other artists made the trek to the ever so luxurious Smith Center for the Performing Arts. I had the innate pleasure of experiencing for the first time one of the most famous modern dance companies of all time the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Founded by Alvin Ailey in 1958 (former director of The Lester Horton Dance Theater), the founding mission with a dedication to enriching the American modern dance heritage and preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience, still exists in full force today.

The dancers took the stage in a commanding and authentic stance. At first glance I was in awe at the muscles that lined the bodies of these dancers. With each controlled movement, and contractions of the upper body, I basked in appreciation of athleticism at its finest that can be righteously assumed, comes from years of hard work and dedication. A dedication that emerges with an un-rippled discipline conjured by an intense love for this technique and form of dance. In the act “Pilgrim of Sorrow” a strong duet performed to “Fix me Jesus” was bridled with strong lines, strict extensions and endearing interaction between dancers. It brought me back to my days in my twenties when I really started to study modern dance. I had the opportunity to study under Tracilyn Tasch of Philadelphia, PA. A graduate with a masters in Peace and Conflict resolution, Tracilyn had also studied for years in the technique of Lester Horton/ Martha Graham. I remember her always speaking of Alvin Ailey and the infamous 1960 Choreographic work “Revelations” which I now was experiencing first hand. She would speak of Alvin Ailey and point to him for inspiration in my artistic work. Tracilyn would explain the tradition, the history of modern dance to me and in effect, exposing me to an in depth knowledge of modern dance I had never really experienced before. As I continued to watch and admire the skilled dancers of Alvin Ailey, these memories continued to flood my senses. I remember how I relished what it felt like to move within the lines of that particular technique, to reach out with those particular extensions. My heart began to yearn again for those movements. I wanted to kick of my stilettos and feel my bare feet on the stage again, my body stretching, reaching, contracting, and most importantly “being” one with the movement. And once again, as in years past, another awakening of love for modern dance rushed through my soul.

Experiencing Alvin Ailey, in my opinion, is experiencing the history of modern dance. As the performance continued, tears of inspiration flowed down my face as the most memorable of acts was “Take Me to the Water”. This piece of choreographic symbolism was met with an array of flowing blue and white fabric to represent the water with reverent dancers almost alluring to a baptism and rebirth of sorts. You could see the dedication and love for this dance pouring out of the performing company members with a sincere glow of authenticity and ritualism. The entire production had an essence of the old south or rather referred to as “blood memories” by the late Alvin Ailey. One can full-heartedly admire the directors and dancers of the 2014 Alvin Ailey whom are keeping his vision alive and well..I almost felt as those I was watching a ballet of Gone with the Wind, complete with his inspirations of the blues, spiritualism and gospel music.

Over all, Alvin Ailey was a spectacular showcase of athleticism, tradition, and pure joy of modern dance with an effect of an honorable admiration for the company, and inspiration of ones own continued journey of movement.

-Onnoleigh Sweetman

About - Onnoleigh

Originally from Rochester, New York Onnoleigh began performing at the tender age of three. Tap dancing on tables at relative's homes, to making makeshift stages out of toy blocks in nursery school, Onnoleigh knew the performing arts would ultimately be a lifelong companion.

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