October 2, 2000
Ailey II: An interview with Sylvia Waters
By Barbara McKenna
In mid-October, Santa Cruz will be visited by a company of dancers considered
to be among the best of their generation. The company, Ailey II, is made up of recent
graduates of one of the many training programs of the Ailey School. Both the school
and Ailey II run under the auspices of the Alvin
Ailey American Dance Theater--one of the country's most respected and long-standing
modern dance companies.
Arts & Lectures will present Ailey
II in the Mainstage Theater on October 14 and 15 at 8 p.m.
|Sylvia Waters, artistic director of Ailey II
October 14 and 15, 8 p.m.
UCSC Theater Arts Mainstage
Tickets: (831) 459-2159
Q: How do you choose the company members for Ailey II?
A: Dancers are selected from those who have completed any of the Ailey School's
advanced programs. At that point, they don't audition, they are selected from the
pool of graduating dancers. The criteria are the dancer's technical ability and ability
to adapt to different musical styles. But I am also looking for something else. I
don't know exactly how to describe it--it has to do with a willingness to reveal
oneself. Alvin also used to describe it as a style of "dancing from the inside
out." The uniqueness of the individual, and how they convey it, is very important.
Alvin was always looking for a very well-versed dancer, for someone who was proficient
in a number of styles--classical ballet, modern, jazz, street dance. The way I look
at it, I want a dancer who has a ballet bottom and a modern top. The use of the torso
is very important, and is rooted in a jazz sensibility, but the use of feet and legs
in a ballet style is also very important. When you get the right combination, you get this
amalgam of classical lines fused with modern dance that is delicious.
Q: How would you describe the dancers who perform with Ailey II?
A: These are exceptional dancers, but they are still growing tremendously.
There is still an enormous amount of nurturing and coaching going on at this point,
because our repertory is a very challenging one. And there is a tremendous demand
on the dancers' abilities to project themselves and communicate the material. It's
an exciting environment to work in; to me, this has a feel of the early days of Ailey.
You see these fantastic dancers pushing the limits, working in a variety of repertory.
You see this energy and these incredible bodies and, you know, it's just delightful
to see all of this.
Q: One critic said of your company: "Call it the 'second' company, but
don't call it second-rate."
A: That quote refers to the quality of what we do. Granted our dancers are
young, perhaps on the threshold of their careers; but that comment is acknowledging
that they do an exceptional job of performing a challenging repertory. Really, they're
in their own category and not to be compared with more seasoned dancers. We're not
trying to be the Ailey first company. Ailey II dancers stay with us for a couple
of years in preparation for going there [to the Alvin Ailey company] or somewhere
Q: What is important to you about dance? What should dance do for an audience?
A: As a philosophy, one wants to bring to audiences the best of modern dance
in all of its accessibility. Dance is not a secret, it shouldn't be a secret. And
it's not esoteric. At its best, I think dance can open one's vision and sensitivity.
It can be a very vital experience, and you and the audience, how you connect with
that ballet or dance--how it touches you and how you respond to it--can be very real,
with all the joy and drama very accessible.
Q: You will be doing a master class for UCSC dance students while you're here.
You've done that in the past as well. What has that experience been like?
A: These classes are always very exciting--and overcrowded! The students in
past times have been very responsive. I think the [Ailey II] teachers are bringing
something that is a challenge for them, and something that may be very new and therefore
exciting. It may be a new technique or just a new way of thinking about something
they're already working on. Our teachers adapt to the skill level of the class, but
we like to keep it challenging.
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