by Liltera Williams
When it comes to dancing, technique is key and passion is essential. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater provides customary strategies for dancers striving to create moments to be remembered for a lifetime. EU recently had the opportunity to speak with Renee Robinson, the last dancer to be chosen by Alvin Ailey before his untimely death. Robinson is a 28-year company member who fell in love with dancing at the age of 10. She began training in classical ballet at the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet and received two Ford Foundation scholarships to the School of American Ballet. She was also awarded full scholarships to the Dance Theater of Harlem School and the Ailey School.
Her current roles, along with dancing, include teaching company classes, speaking for childrens performances and giving background and technical information to prospective dancers in order to ensure a special dance experience.
In 1958, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was founded in New York, with the mission of making dance accessible through dance training and innovative community outreach. With an initial enrollment of 125 students, it didn’t receive its accreditation until 1982 from the National Association of Schools of Dance. A remarkable faculty of dance professionals trains more than 5000 students annually in full-time programs for aspiring dance students, the Professional Division and Ailey II (Junior Division headed by Sylvia Waters, designed to aid 12 dancers in their personal and professional transition). The company also offers Ailey Extension classes for members of the general public not associated with the school. The AAADT is the largest facility dedicated to dance with performances seen in over 70 countries on six continents. The company continues to maintain a focus on the idea that dance comes from the people and should be delivered back to the people.
Rennee Robinson is currently one of 30 beautiful dancers embarking on a 20-city tour celebration, highlighting the achievements of Artistic Director Judith Jamison as she continues to keep the organization successful while striving to remain true to the principle of Alvin Ailey’s original vision. A recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, Ms. Jamison is a well-known, accomplished figure in modern dance and has greatly influenced those around her, including Robinson. She recently led a 50-city tour celebrating the company’s 50th Anniversary, vowing to keep Ailey’s memory alive while continuing to preserve his legacy. The AAADT continues to provide an outlet for dancers who hope to uplift their communities through a cultural art form that inspires, promotes and supports the goal of unity.
Robinson enthusiastically describes dancing as “something I absolutely enjoy” and claims that each performer is “not only great in technical styles, but committed to the passion, energy, joy and celebration of dancing.” Audience members can expect a physical and emotional rendition of one classic ballet, featuring a broad range of styles with jazz and classy overtones. Robinson believes in the motto, “There is no such thing as a dumb dancer” and speaks openly and strongly about what it takes to become successful as a professional. She truthfully informs aspiring young dancers about the business, reminding them that no matter what level they reach, taking dance classes will always be a way of life. She is also an adamant believer in eating well and tries to stay extremely disciplined by firmly sticking to her “leafy, green vegetable” diet.
Ms. Robinson has potent words of advice for any dancer with the desire to achieve ultimate success. “You take care of your instrument by taking care of yourself… get your rest, get out and learn about life, continue to grow as a person, take care of your spirit, understand your talent, understand the behind-the-scenes of the business and the art form, know how to read your contract and handle your money and be open to learning new languages while traveling… because the richer you are as a person, the fuller your dance experience will be.”
For one night only, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform in Jacksonville at the Times-Union Center’s Moran Theater on Tuesday, May 18 at 7:30 pm. The Ailey dancers will be celebrating Judith Jamison’s 20th year as Artistic Director with the world premiere of Dancing Spirit, an interpretation of Jamison’s autobiography set to music by Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis and War. Other performances include a dynamic male solo of Robert Battle’s In/Side to Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind,” Night Creature, a dedication to Duke Ellington and Revelations, paying homage to Mr. Ailey himself. Tickets range in price from $40.50 to $100.50. Call the Artist Series box office at 632-3373 for more information.
I Hope You Dance… Forever
by Liltera Williams