Ailey II, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s second company, is filled with young talent, and they will be returning to the Bandshell on Thursday, August 8. We interviewed some of the dancers to get to know more about their backgrounds and what it’s like being a dancer on a world tour.
1. What do you love about being a part of Ailey II?
Grace Bergonzi: Being a part of Ailey II has truly been a surreal experience, as it had always been a dream of mine to be a part of Mr. Ailey's legacy. Mr. Ailey's vision for the second company was for students in The Ailey School to have a seamless transition from student life to professional life. It was created for the students of The School to learn the lifestyle of being in a professional company. Because of one man's vision of inclusivity and love of dance, he made it possible for us to touch people's lives through this incredible art form.
Amarachi Valentina Korie: Being in Ailey II is absolutely a dream come true. My sophomore year of high school I was blessed to see Ailey II perform for the first time at Towson University. After seeing Alvin Ailey's masterpiece Revelations, I knew in my heart that I wanted to perform with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. So I love being able to perform Revelations for audiences all over the world. Not only that, but I enjoy being able to work with choreographers from many different styles and backgrounds because I am always faced with a new challenge that will only strengthen and better me as a dancer and artist.
Marcel Wilson, Jr.: Part of what I love most about being in Ailey II is meeting different audience members around the world and hearing how we impacted them. It's always nice to know that your hard work, day in and day out, has ended up impacting someone. It's one of the reasons why I continue to dance.
Carl Ponce Cubero: Ailey II has been such an immense blessing. I find myself continually inspired by the talent, tenacity, and pure artistry in and outside of the dance space. Ultimately, there's a collective love and passion for the art of dance and the general ethos of Ailey. We each take on the responsibility of moving Mr. Ailey's legacy forward into a bright future with fervor and beautiful movement.
2. What is it like being on a world tour? What are some of the favorite places you've visited or performed?
Marcel: Going on tour is such an amazing experience! Looking back at my first year, touring has changed me so much mentally, and a lot of things that I've learned and experienced around the world have helped mold me into a different human being. My favorite city this past year was definitely Terrassa, Spain. We were 30 minutes outside of Barcelona, and it was amazing to experience their culture. The shopping was also great!
Grace: Being on a world tour is not only physically demanding but emotionally and mentally demanding as well, because we perform such rigorous works over the course of multiple weeks. Some of my favorite places we have toured are Spain and Germany. In both countries the audiences radiate energy and love throughout the performance, which pushes us to give them even more. Many times, at the end of the performance they will not only explode with a roar of applause, but they will also stomp their feet, making the theater that much louder and full of joy.
Carl: I would have never imagined myself in a position where I could and should share my artistry with the world. Europe has been so gracious, kind, receptive, and open. It is truly fascinating to be in a position of exchange, in which we share ourselves on the stage while receiving the local culture and art in our down time. I look back and find myself so inspired as I walk through the side streets of Sabadell, Spain; climbing the steps to the cathedral on the hill in Lyon, France; or wandering the streets for a post-performance meal in Schweinfurt, Germany.
3. Have you ever performed outdoors before? If no, what are you excited about or nervous for with this outdoor performance? If yes, how does performing in a park compare to performing in more traditional settings?
Amarachi: I have performed outdoors before, quite recently, on an outdoor stage in the heart of Times Square. Performing outside amongst the rush of Times Square was a truly unforgettable experience because, as Times Square is infamous to be, I was surrounded by people of all walks of life: tourists, native New Yorkers, children, etc. So, what was quite intriguing was that amongst all the hustle and bustle of one of the most populated locations in New York City, people passing by, lost in their hectic personal lives, would all of a sudden stop and watch the performance happening on this outdoor stage. After experiencing that, I am interested in seeing how a park setting will be, not only from my perspective as the performer, but from the audience response. Of course, there will be no curtain separating the audience from the performers and lighting will not be exactly as it would be in a theater. So, the outdoor space should be a lot more welcoming in a sense, which will be great for the audience.
Grace: I performed outside during my time at the Jacob's Pillow Contemporary Program summer intensive where we had the privilege of performing on the Inside Out Stage. Performing outside is one of my favorite experiences because as dancers it feels like we have no limitations. We are not confined by a theater and its walls, but rather open to nature and all the people milling about. This gives a new energy to each work, making it unlike any other performance in a traditional theater setting.
Marcel: I've performed outdoors as a part of Earl Mosley's Hearts of Men during a NYC SummerStage event back in 2015. Performing outdoors is a very different experience because there are more things stimulating you. The weather, the humidity, the birds, the bugs, the sounds of New York City. All of these things affect you onstage, and you get to use it to create a different experience for yourself. When I performed with Hearts of Men, it actually rained during the performance! The piece we were performing was a tribute to the late Dudley Williams, and in my mind, the rain meant that he was there with us, watching over us. Ironically, when the piece ended, so did the rain. That's a moment I'll never forget.
4. Personally, how do you prepare for a show?
Carl: Dancing, and more precisely performing, in my experience requires extreme personal mental, physical, and emotional preparation. I find that I need a moment to myself on the stage prior to the top of each performance. In warming up my body again, I put myself into a meditative state, reflecting on my own work that has brought me here, but also thanking those who have sacrificed so much. The minutes before the start of a performance are a time for prayer and reflection of the blessings I've received since being a part of Ailey II.
Amarachi: Before every performance, I always make sure that my body is properly warmed for the dancing that awaits me. I have always loved a good ballet barre warmup that will ensure that my body is aligned, allowing me to be well on top of my legs for the performance. It is also a ritual for me, right before the curtain rises, to do some sit-ups and other abdominal exercises in order to ensure that my core is nice and tight as well as suitably engaged to complete a full performance. While I do take the extra mile to ensure that my body is adequately prepared for the work at hand, I make sure that I take some quiet time to focus my mind and spirit. A lot, if not all, of the ballets that we do require us to tap into the specific character called for the ballet, because as dancers we are also storytellers. In order to make sure that I am delivering a profound performance for the audience, I have to have some quiet time to reflect, pray, and remind myself why I dance and my purpose every time I step onstage. What we do is much bigger than ourselves and no matter what the circumstances may be that day, I always make sure that I tune into that higher purpose and calling from God that I have as a dancer.
5. What are some of your favorite memories from being in Ailey II?
Amarachi: My favorite memory from being in Ailey II is being able to perform in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland for the first time. Last September, Ailey II performed at Towson University, which was where I first saw Ailey II years ago, and Revelations was also in our program. Seeing all the students and speaking with them after the school matinee performances meant the world to me because it was not too long ago that I was just like each of those students. I completely understood all the feelings they felt, and I was able to share my story of how I grew from where I was then to achieving the dreams that I am living in now.
Marcel: This past February, we had a rest stop in Las Vegas for the night. That was most definitely a night to remember! It was my first time going to Vegas, and it was a place on my travel bucket list. I had so much fun, and spending time there with my second family made it even better.
6. Do you have any advice for young aspiring professional dancers?
Amarachi: For any young aspiring dancer out there, no matter how difficult the path may seem to be or how many times you may hear a no, keep on moving toward your goal. No one and nothing can come in the way if you give it your absolute all and trust that all the hard work and prayers will amount to success. Believe that what is yours will be yours because it is already true. There is no other human being out there that is exactly like you and no one can bring to the table what you have that is absolutely unique to you. Keep shining and love yourself because you are beautiful, talented and amazing enough to be whatever you want to be in any company you aspire to be in.
Grace: My advice for young aspiring dancers is to keep going and never give up. While it may seem cliché, this is something that we as artists must constantly remind ourselves. We will have bad days, however without those lows, the highs wouldn't be as high. I've found that the key is to fall in love with the work. The work reminds me why I love to dance. When I'm in the studio and can feel the grit and passion of myself and my coworkers, it leaves me feeling inspired and hungry for more.
Carl: Dance is gritty, mean, unrelenting. It doesn't assuage during times of personal stress and turmoil. But embrace it for all it is worth. The blood, sweat, tears make you all the more beautiful. Be soft with yourself. Be open with yourself. Hold your head high and your belly button to your spine. You are beautiful and fierce and can do so much. You don't even know how brightly you shine.
7. What is your favorite thing about the program for this particular show? What has been the most challenging aspect to work on?
Grace: I love all of the works and feel that they are all so different, which makes for an exciting program. Personally, I connect with Bradley Shelver's Where There Are Tongues because it's all about community. While we are all individuals and have our own stories, we come together to create this unique community. I feel like the piece looks like a film in that the audience is watching a story unfold before their eyes.
Amarachi: What I am looking forward to performing most will be Road To One by Darrell Moultrie. This is ballet is full of hope and joy and I hope that the audience leaves feeling uplifted and inspired after watching this work. This piece was created in dedication to all of our mentors and the people who paved the way for us in our lives for us to get where we are now. I hope the audience is reminded of those who helped them to achieve their goals and to become the person they are today.
Marcel: My favorite thing about the program is the range of works. Each piece brings a different emotion, a different story, and a different energy. There will be joy, humor, desperation, passion, and so much more. There is a work for everyone in the audience. The most challenging aspect would have to be the role changes. As the company roster changes every year, so does casting. There have been a few new parts for me to learn within the limited time that we have, so a lot of outside homework needs to be done. However, I'm also excited to hit the stage with these new roles and make them mine!
See these dancers and more on Thursday, August 8 #AtTheBandshell, when Ailey II performs for free!