The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is the most exciting dance company in the world. If you’ve never seen them perform, you have no idea what the human body can do, in terms of sheer grace, control, elegance, strength, and athleticism. If you’ve never been to a dance performance, you have no idea what you’re missing.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to the Wang Theatre this weekend, presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston, and Jacquelin Harris took some time to speak about her experiences on becoming an Ailey dancer.
Michael: What was your path to Ailey – how did you train, where did you train?
Jacquelin: My path to Ailey began in Charlotte, North Carolina. I trained in jazz, tap, contemporary, and ballet at a local studio called Dance Productions (now known as Dance Productions the Remix). I started around age two, and began to dance competitively when I was a little older. After high school, I attended the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, which included training at The Ailey School. After two years, I was invited to audition for Ailey II, and was awarded an apprenticeship. The following year, I joined Ailey II, and a year later the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I joined the first company at the end of their domestic tour, and graduated from Fordham University with a BFA in Dance later that month.
Michael: What was the Ailey audition process like?
Jacquelin: I went into the audition with the intentions of having a good time, being comfortable in the movement, and showing my personality. There were a lot of people. We took ballet, learned a bit of repertory, and before I knew it, they were calling my name.
Michael: When did you first realize you wanted to be a dancer? Was your family supportive, or did they think you were crazy? What about your friends?
Jacquelin: I first wanted to dance professionally my senior year of high school. I always loved to dance, but I had not been close with many people who studied dance beyond high school or made a career out of the performing arts. My ballet instructor, Denise Britzclarke, was supportive, and encouraged me to pursue my talent. She also played a large role in getting my parents to support my career choice, though they also insisted I follow another path, “just in case.” One of the many great aspects of the Ailey/Fordham BFA program is that it allows students to focus on academics as well as art. I took extra courses in mathematics in hopes of not only appeasing my parents, but also furthering my love of math and science.
I grew up surrounded by my dance family. Dance Productions was like a second home to me, and the people there were like my family.
Michael: When did you first come in contact with Ailey – a performance, online, some other way – and what did you think?
Jacquelin: I learned about the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater by word of mouth. My first time seeing the company live was opening night of their New York City Center season in 2010, my freshman year of college. I was sitting very close, third row, and I could see the sweat and tears of the performers. Everything I’d heard was true. The company displayed an incredible amount of grace and power. I knew that dancing for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater would be magical.
Michael: What’s your day like as an Ailey dancer?
Jacquelin: Working as an Ailey dancer is exciting. Because of the diverse repertory, we rehearse and perform many different styles every day. We have company class each morning for about an hour, and we usually rehearse from noon until 7pm. We tour between six and eight months of the year in the United States and abroad. While on tour, we rehearse for hours before the performance, then get ready on our own – that can mean taking company class or warming up individually. Sometimes, we have two performances in a day – a matinee or morning “mini” performance for area students, and an evening performance.
Michael: Do you enjoy the travel? Also, how do you eat in a healthy manner on the road – that’s not easy!
Jacquelin: The traveling is one of my favorite parts about being in the company. It is always fulfilling to be able to share our art with many different cultures, to see different parts of the world, and to gain a greater understanding of the immense level of diversity that exists. And we get to try so much good food in different cities. Eating healthy on the road is like a puzzle waiting to be solved. The challenge of finding delicious, reasonably priced, healthy food is all a part of the experience, and it’s a great way to explore a new area and find local gems.
I love coming to Boston. The food is amazing, the audiences are appreciative and gracious, and the Wang Theatre is always welcoming.
For further information, http://www.celebrityseries.org/ailey/index.htm