P/Review: River North’s Autumn Passions

River North dancers in Frank Chaves' "Eva". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

This weekend River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) takes the stage of the Harris Theater with their Autumn Passions program. RNDC opened the 2013-2014 season with a shortened gala program on Thursday, Nov. 14 featuring two world premieres, a company premiere and the Harris debut of a 2013 work by Artistic Director Frank Chaves and will perform a full program Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16-17.

Thursday’s gala performance began with Chaves’ Eva, a suite of dances to jazzed up songs sung by Eva Cassidy. Gorgeous vocal mixed with Chaves’ talent for partnering and duets. Three couples swirled to Cassidy’s rendition of Sting’s Fields of Gold (one of my favorite songs) and although timing was off, it offered  a perfect opening for the evening. A hot, hot, hot quintessentially RNDC, Vent-like duet with Jessica Wolfrum and Ahnad Simmons and a lovely side-by-side duet for Lauren Kias (sassy haircut, btw) and Hank Hunter. Eva closed with a feel good, full company section to Wade in the Water – a jazz-meets-Ailey’s Revelations.

It was a gala, so speeches and donation pitches came before the world premiere of Ashley Roland’s Get Out the Ghost. Roland, co-artistic director of BodyVox came to Chicago in July to set the new work. When I popped in to rehearsals, it wasn’t complete, but after seven days was quickly taking shape. “I need to choreograph faster, otherwise my head gets in the way,” she said. Chaves had asked her to create something “ethereal”. The final section of the Americana work dealing with getting rid of personal baggage or “cleaning your own personal house” is ethereal, but as Roland said, you have to get there first. The work began with the movement, although that’s not always how she works. “It comes through me. It’s not manufactured,” said Roland. “It’s definitely a gift.”

Dancers twitch and twist in angsty spurts while pulling shiny gold mylar pieces from their costumes throughout the first two sections. I get the idea, but it was too literal and while the dancers gave it their all, it seemed over-danced. A little less attack, a little more softness would have served the work better. Daring running dives and catches wowed, but overall, the work needed more subtly.

Dancer Drew Fountain is the first dancer other than choreographer Adam Barruch to perform his theatrical solo work The Worst Pies in London set to the song of the same title from the Broadway musical Sweeney Todd. Barruch himself performed it here at the Chicago Dancing Festival in 2011. Fountain was hilarious and charming in this quirky duet with a table. It’s a definite crowd-pleaser.

The world premiere of  Dawn by Deeply Rooted Dance Theater‘s Kevin Iega Jeff closed the hour-long show and proved to be a stellar showcase of the dancers’ talents. Set to the driving beat of a version of Carmina Burana, Dawn depicts an intense, physical, ritualistic society with goddess overtones, or as Iega Jeff states in the program notes – “a new Age of Enlightenment”. All gold tones and biceps – and I’m talking about the ladies! – Iega Jeff makes these dancers WORK! It really is non-stop, balls-to-the-walls dancing – just what we’ve come to expect from RNDC. Wolfrum was fierce as a the head of the hierarchy, boldly commanding the stage.

My only regret not going to see the performances this weekend is I will miss the stunning Nejla Yatkin solo Renatus danced by diva Wolfrum and Daniel Ezralow’s SUPER STRAIGHT is coming down, which was originally created for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (and one of my fave pieces EVER). RNDC’s first attempt at Ezralow’s work didn’t meet expectations (injuries, etc.), but I’m glad they are bringing it back with a different cast. My guess is they will knock it out of the theater this time around.

River North Dance Chicago’s Autumn Passions at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Saturday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $30-$75; call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org. 

 

CDF13 Celebration of Dance

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater in "Bolero". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

It was a celebration. A celebration of dance. A celebration of the end of an all-free, world-class dance festival. A celebration of the city we love. Last Saturday night, thousands gathered – including Mayor Emanuel – at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park to enjoy a perfect evening under the stars surrounded by the Chicago skyline for the final night of the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). Dancers representing 13 different companies treated lucky ticket holders to an array of dance styles over the five day festival culminating in this star-studded performance in the heart of downtown.

The celebration began with a CDF commissioned work by Chicago artists Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett for the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, which premiered earlier in the week. In the beginning… created an entire world including soundscape, conversation and relationships with rhythm and footwork. The Joffrey Ballet followed with Jerome Robbins’ 1945 work Interplay. This perky ballet that predates his acclaimed West Side Story is a fiendishly difficult, but fun romp incorporating bright colors, pony tails, big smiles, lots of pirouettes, double tours and even cartwheels. Much to the crowd’s delight, Giordano Dance Chicago‘s Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia brought back a 2012 CDF commission and audience favorite with Alex Ekman’s rubber-faced, romantic comedy piece Two Become Three.

Philadanco in "Wake Up". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

In their CDF debut, Philadelphia-based Philadanco brought a long, meandering work by Rennie Harris. The dancers clad in Soul Train-era, 70s costumes (love the afros!) blend street, jazz and hip hop in an aerobic mix of stylish funk. The dancers were strong in Wake Up (2012), but I wanted to see them do more. Tamako Miyazaki (Columbia Classical Ballet) and Brooklyn Mack (Washington Ballet) once again dazzled in the classical Diana and Actaeon pas de deux (1935). They performed this trick fest earlier in the week, but were even more solid with their dizzying turns and gravity-defying leaps (and some impressive balances en pointe, penché anyone?) than their stellar performance on Tuesday night. “Standing O” in the park. Samuel Lee Roberts of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre reprised the intense, dramatic solo In/Side (2008) he had performed on Wednesday and twice on Friday. Roberts danced his heart out on the stage on Saturday, but with a good amount of the choreography performed on the floor, I wonder if it read as well for the people on the lawn viewing the performance mainly via video feed provided by HMS Media on a huge jumbo tron screen. I hope it did, because it was fantastic. The evening ended with Ensemble Español‘s epic Bolero. This flamenco feast for the eyes looked great on the outdoor stage and was the perfect way to end the performance and the festival.

Hyde Park School of Dance Turns 20!

Hyde Park School of Dance Artistic Director August Tye.

Congrats to the Hyde Park School of Dance for two decades of technical dance training on Chicago’s South Side. There are two performances of En Avant, celebrating their 20-year mark, this weekend at the Logan Center for the Arts (915 E. 60th St.). Tickets are $35-$75.

Read my interview with Artistic Director August Tye that appears in the current issue of Windy City Times here.

Auditorium Theatre 2013-2014 Highlights

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in "Songs of the Wanderer". Photo by YU ui-hung.

The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University (ATRU) just announced its 2013-2014 season. Here are a few things I’m excited about:

Ballet West – former Joffrey Ballet dancer Adam Sklute’s company will be presenting Sleeping Beauty (classic, long, but beautiful w/ gorgeous music) and Val Caniparoli’s The Lottery. Caniparoli created Incantations for Joffrey in 2012 and has received great reviews for the premiere of The Lottery which has a unique twist where the audience finds out the “secret” before the dancers (who don’t know who will perform the final solo until it happens live!). Cool beans.

Houston Ballet – In another local connection, Joffrey premiered Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony in 2012. His company brings the storybook ballet Aladdin to town in March of 2014.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – The New York-based company returns for another two-week run featuring a mixed rep and the showstopper Revelations. Yay.

River North Dance Chicago – Local favorite Rivno takes the stage in April 2014 will a new world premiere. Always a good show – expect lots of abs and speedy turns.

Paul Taylor Dance Company – I’m reading Paul Taylor’s new book Facts and Fancies right now, so the timing is perfect! My only regret is never getting to see my friend Julie Tice perform with the company live during her ten years there :(

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre – Co-presented with the Dance Center of Columbia College and the Joffrey Ballet, this troupe from Taiwan always amazes with their imagery and Butoh-esque stamina/control.

Chick Corea and Béla Fleck – Non-dancy, but my brother (a musician) listened to Corea ALL the time when we were growing up and a bazillion years ago I performed a piece with the above mentioned Tice to a Beatles cover by Fleck (and the Flecktones). Good times.

So there you have it. Oh plus, the yearly tradition of the Joffrey’s The Nutcracker and any chance to see ATRU E.D. Brett Batterson and you can see why I’m stoked.

For more information, visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

Top 5 Reasons to go see Alvin Ailey this weekend

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Ailey American Dance Theater continues its 10-performance run at the Auditorium Theatre this weekend. Here are 5 reasons you should go see them:

1. Two new programs that include contemporary European works (you may know for local Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s rep) Jirí Kylían’s Petite Mort and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Even if you’ve seen these pieces before, watching the tautly muscled Ailey dancers perform them is something entirely new.

2. My non-dancer friend that I took with my to opening night said, “This is the best dance show I’ve seen!”

3. It’s at the Auditorium Theatre. Beautiful and historic, it is the perfect place to see this great American company.

4. The audience. Ailey audiences are the best! There will be whooping, hollering, clapping, yelling and, if my experiences serve me correctly, a standing ovation. I guarantee you will leave the theater feeling joyful.

5. Revelations! Revelations! Revelations! This iconic work created by Alvin Ailey in 1960 still stands the test of time. Set to traditional gospel music, like Wade in the Water and Sinner Man (my favorite!), this piece will have you jumping out of your seat and dancing out of the theater. I dare you to now leave with the high energy finale stuck in your head. I’ve seen this work at least 20 times (yes, I’m that old) and, truth be told, there was a time when I didn’t want to see it again, but now, I would go if it was the only thing on the program. This one dance is worth the price of your ticket.  

Alvin Ailey’s Ghrai DeVore

Alvin Ailey dancer Ghrai DeVore (front) in Jiri Kylian's "Petite Mort". Photo by Paul Kolnick.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is making headlines this week with great reviews for their run at the Auditorium Theatre. This year marks the first time the company performs ten shows over two weeks to the delight of Chicago audiences. The main staple, Ailey’s 1960 Revelations never fails to get the audience on its feet and is looking as strong and fresh as ever. Newer works, such as Kyle Abraham’s 2012 Another Night and European contemporary works fill out the repertory showcasing the dancers formidable technique and physical talents.

One of the dancers with Chicago ties is the lovely Ghrai DeVore. Ghrai – pronounced “gray” – started dancing in Washington, D.C., but moved to Chicago when her mother joined Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. Miss DeVore  trained at the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center, then danced with Deeply Rooted 2, Hubbard Street 2 and DanceWorks Chicago before heading to New York where she was in the fellowship program at The Ailey School. She quickly obtained a position in Ailey II and after two years, she was picked by Judith Jameson to join the main company. She’s now in her third season.

RB had a quick phone chat with DeVore, who was getting over a bout of food poisoning and preparing for the second week of performances.  Here are her thoughts…

On her unique first name: My Mom told me it means “happy medium”, so when she was pregnant, she would be happy if the baby was a boy or a girl.

On working with Julie Nakagawa at HS2 and DWC: I wanted to be a part of whatever she was doing.

On a typical performance day on tour: We have rehearsals starting at 2:00 pm; an hour class at 5:30 pm, followed by an hour break; at 7:00 pm we are in the theater, putting on make-up and ready to go; show at 7:30 pm. If it is a matinee day, we have to be there at 10:00 am.

On dancing Jirí Kylían’s Petite Mort and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16: I’m really interested in what’s going on overseas. With these works, I’m getting a taste of that.

On Ronald Brown’s Grace: It’s about your particular connection with God or whatever higher being you believe in and dancing for that higher being, because you were created for a purpose. It’s very spiritual, but I wouldn’t say it’s religious.

On dancing Kyle Abraham’s Another Night: It’s nice to have pieces you can really connect with. We can look at each other on stage and really express our love.

On performing the iconic work Revelations: Humbling. It’s amazing to do what so many people before me have done. We have to keep up the integrity. Every time I do it, it feels new.

On dancing the super-controlled “Fix Me, Jesus” duet in Revelations: Actually, it’s one of the easier roles, for me. I feel like I have more control when I move slower. I can give more value to each movement. It’s nice to come off stage and think, ‘Yeah, that’s what I trained for’.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy.) through Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $32-$92; call 800.982.2787.

Moving Dialogs Series

Moving Dialogs curator Baracka de Soleil. Photo by Jacob Bell.

Diversity seems to be the word on everyone’s lips these days. Shirley Mordine, director of Mordine & Co., spoke about the need to diversify by asking other companies to perform with her company at last week’s performances. Numerous small companies across Chicago are sharing shows with other artists in alternative spaces in increasing frequency. Rumors have the Dance Center of Columbia College looking to diversify their academic programming to include a broader spectrum of styles including African and hip hop. Local dance service organization Audience Architects held several convenings gathering artists opinions and data on diversity of dance in Chicago. And then there is the Chicago Cultural Plan – the big daddy study on arts and diversity in the Windy City.

But it was a conversation with Audience Architects Executive Director Heather Hartley and artist/teacher/consultant Baraka de Soleil that sparked the idea for a new, six-part series called Moving Dialogs: Diversity + Dance. de Soleil said the community convenings came out of the fact that local artists who attended the 2012 Dance/USA conference weren’t satisfied with the conversation about diversity. “We were either trying to be too nice or it was being diluted,” he said. “There are things we didn’t want to talk about. It’s very challenging. Through the genius of Audience Architects, bridging the conversations between audiences and those who construct the work is a wonderful way to begin to make the conversation larger.” The free series opens this Sunday, March 10 with Diversity: Then/Now at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

de Soleil, who grew up on the South Side and has performed as an interdisciplinary artist in Minnesota, San Francisco and New York, will be the curator for the entire series. The inaugural Spring Series will focus on Chicago’s history and the current cultural climate of the local and national dance scene. A panel of artists – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre‘s artistic director Robert Battle, Columbia College chair Onye Ozuzu, dance critic Lucia Mauro, dance education director for Old Town School Sarah Dandelles, Cerqua Rivera artistic director Wilfredo Rivera, DanceWorks Chicago artistic director Julie Nakagawa and emerging artists NIC K and Dorian Rhea -  will participate in the discussion, bringing their expertise to the table.

I spoke with de Soleil over the phone last week about Moving Dialogs and the opening series.

How did you decide who would be on the panel?

Timelines, relevance and cultivating relationships. The people who are a part of this opening forum are people I’ve had time to get to know and have conversations and hear where they’re at. This came out of conversations, not necessarily about diversity, but what are the ways we can come together and strategize. The representation of emerging artists is important. They’re beginning to think about ways of diverstiy that are multi-layered. They’re just doing it. They aren’t talking about it. We need to hear these voices and they’ll teach us something. It’s important that the experience is somewhat multi-generational, but that it’s a coalition of the multiple voices, multiple ages and multiple experiences all looking towards discovering this language about how we can think and break open the notion of diversity. It was synergy. It was timing. It was relevance.

What kind of information are you hoping to get and what will you do with that information?

We want to begin to discover, as a community, the best language that supports moving this conversation about diversity along and that it moves us beyond the notion of diversity as a deficit, as something marginalized, as something now that has been relegated to our legacies. We need something to move us out of that place and that there is a co-existence of these diverse thoughts. It’s a big challenge. Above and beyond just representation of having different people in the room is the line their diverse and distinctive bodies to co-exist and to speak from that place of co-existence. You can be there and I can be there. We can both have our opinions, but a new language that allows us to both be there. This first one is an inroads of how we can begin to talk about diversity. It’s not attainable; it’s already there. We’re just beginning to name it and allow it to co-exist and to allow the diverse voices to co-exist in a new way that everyone can share and be their true selves, adding to the conversation. Who is in the room will inform the conversation. I have a legacy and a past that reflects who I am culturally. I’m going to allow myself to be deeply present in this moment and ask others to be deeply present in themselves and that is what is going to inform it. There is this conversation, but there will be iterations that move it and propel it forward, so we won’t be stuck in this conversation.

Read more about Moving Dialogs with a Moving Reflections blog entry by Hubbard Street Communications Manager Zac Whittenburg.

Moving Dialogs Diversity: Then/Now, Sunday, March 10 from 6:30-8 pm at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4545 N. Lincoln Ave in the Myron R. Szold Music and Dance Hall. Admission is free. RSVP IS REQUIRED.

40 Years of Muntu

Muntu dancers in action. Photo by Marc Monaghan.

Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago celebrates 40 years of performance, education and preservation of African and African-American dance. The word muntu means “the essence of humanity” in Bantu and that essence, that human connect, is what the company brings into everything it does.  For the newcomer, a Muntu performance is quite the spectacle.  Not only traditional African dance, but contemporary offerings with drummers and musicians performing with such passion and dynamic energy, you can’t help but be swept up in the moment.  Amaniyea Payne, the Artistic Director since 1987, lists some of the company’s highlights over the years:  being able to take the company to other countries and continents (Africa, Mexico, Brazil), to be internationally recognized as a reliable source of this artistic form, to continue educating at summer dance intensives (Colorado Dance Festival, Bates Dance Festival), having the company at full-time status so the artists are able to survive on their craft, working with world-renowned artists on collaborative performances (Arthur Hall, Ronald K. Brown)…you get the picture.  “It’s a milestone to still be here, to still be performing, to still be enlightening people,” she said last week in a phone interview.  “We’re still looking at the institutionalization of our organization.  We want to continue to connect, to promote and to inspire.”

Dancer/choreographer Jeffrey Page. Photo by Djeneba Aduayom.

Payne, 58, has been an inspiration and influence to many young artists over the years, most notably a young boy from Indianapolis, IN that now has quite a reputation in the dance world.  Dancer/choreographer Jeffrey Page has been a guest choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance, starred in Fela! on Broadway, got an Emmy nomination for his work on the NAACP Image Awards show, and choreographed the finale of the 2005 Billboard’s Music Awards.  His most famous collaboration – so far – has been working with Beyoncé on her 2007 world tour and choreographing the video for Girls Rule the World.  “I’ve known Jeffrey since he was 11 years old, since he started his mission to become a dynamic performing artist as well as choreographer,” said Payne.  Page affectionately calls her Mama Amaniyea and consistently asked to create something for Muntu.  She always answered, “in time that will happen”.  Well, it is happening now.  Page’s Beauty, I Am will make its world premiere this weekend as part of the New Voices/New Vistas program at the Harris Theater.  Page’s work will have the company showing a more contemporary flair.

Also on the program, See (In) Me a contemporary piece by former River North dancer Monique Haley;  Roff, a work inspired by the national dish of Senegal – “it’s tasty, a lot of spice, a lot of flavor, but stays traditional”; Djole, a traditional mask dance from Guinea, West Africe and Sierra Leone; Tribute: Afro-Caribe and Djembe Drum Talk featuring the Muntu musicians.

Muntu Dance Theatre presents New Voices/New Vistas on Saturday, July 21 at 7 pm, Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Dr. Tickets are $15 – $175.  Call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org.

American Rhythm Center to Open Doors Soon

Rendering of the American Rhythm Center's reception area.

Lane Alexander’s dream of a shared-space, communal arts building is finally coming true.  The American Rhythm Center (ARC), located in Chicago’s Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Avenue – former space of the Boitsov Ballet – will launch its first stage in a few weeks.  On the third floor of this cultural institution will be three new multi-use studios to be shared by nine local mid-sized arts organizations.  Alexander’s Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) will be the first to use the space for the upcoming Rhythm World Festival 2012 later this month with a grand opening with the resident partners coming this fall in September.

The collaborative space will be shared by community partners Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Giordano Dance Chicago, Kalapriya, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Ping Pong Productions and River North Dance Chicago.  “One of the things that’s appealing about ARC is that we’re helping to build cultural infrastructure,” said CHRP’s new Executive Director Frank Sonntag.  “To have a healthy ecosystem, you can’t just pay attention to the top, you have to pay attention to the middle and create entry points for artists.  That’s what we’re doing and I think it’s important.”  Sonntag, 50, boasts a long career in arts administration with stints at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, Dance St. Louis, David Parsons Project, New York Foundation for the Arts, Broadway Cares, Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts as well as helping open the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis last fall.  He’s only been in town a month and is already in love with the city and excited about this new venture. “It’s very much born out of the idea of collaboration,” Sonntag said.  “What is going to make it work is that collectively the offerings we’ll have are much greater than any one of us are and that will give us market penetration that all of us will have.”

The plan for ARC came out of CHRP’s strategic planning process and with Alexander on board it was only a matter of time before it became a reality.  Approximately $1 million has already been raised and a capital campaign is in the works to raise the estimated $2.5 million needed to complete the other two phases of the project which include administrative facilities, additional space for programming and a black box theater.  Shared performances have gained ground in recent years with many smaller experimental companies presenting together at independent venues and with Audience Architects’ MetLife Fund New Stages for Dance Initiative pairing mid-sized companies at larger venues.  This shared-space facility takes sharing to a whole new level.  “It’s a new model based on the strength of collaboration,” said Sonntag.  “Medium-sized dance companies in particular are under-capitalized, not just here, but all over the country.  What happens when resources are tight is organizations cut programs, the cut marketing budgets, they cut educational outreach and the audiences dwindle.  It’s a downward spiral that can be debilitating.  What ARC will do is to enable these companies to expand their community outreach, be more financially stable through earned income sources and potentially grow their audience.”

As contractors race to make sure the three studios are ready for class by the end of the month, Sonntag feels they are in a good place and is ready for the challenges ahead.  “We’re going to take baby steps.  We’re going to share a copier,” he said.  “The real goal is taking advantage of the synergy that you create when you put that many arts organizations in such close proximity.  That will cut down on some of the barriers that exist.  It’s the wave of the future.”

Another Daley in Chicago

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre dancers in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

In middle school, Sarah Daley came to Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre (ATRU) to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) perform.  She left inspired, but never anticipating that a few years later, at 25, she would be getting ready to perform on that very stage as part of the acclaimed company.  “It’s so crazy.  It’s very surreal the closer I get to it,” she said.  “Especially dancing at the Auditorium, because that’s where growing up I got to see all these amazing companies.  To be on that stage is going to be great.”  Tomorrow night, Daley will take the stage with her fellow AAADT dancers for opening night of a six performance run.  Dreams – with a lot of hard work – really do come true.

Daley grew up in up in South Elgin and started dancing at the Faubourg School of Ballet in Hanover Park.  When looking for colleges (her Mom said not going to college was not an option), a dance program was paramount.  She ended up at Fordham University which has a partnership with AAADT.  After two years dancing with Ailey II,  she’s now in her first season with the main company.  This is also the first season under new artistic director Robert Battle.   While traditional Ailey pieces like Revelations are still in the rep, Battle includes his choreography but is also bringing in different styles of work to challenge the dancers and the audience.  On the Chicago programs are works from Ailey, Battle, Rennie Harris, Paul Taylor and Ohad Naharin.

I spoke with Daley over the phone earlier this week.  The company arrives in Chicago today.

Did you always want to be in Ailey? Was this your goal?

It was definitely a goal.  I wasn’t sure how realistic it was…it seemed like a long shot, but it was always something that I really wanted to do.  I was going to do everything I could do to make that happen.  

It’s an exciting time with the company going in a new direction.  What’s it been like for you?

Like you said, it’s really exciting.  There’s this air around Ailey everywhere we tour, everybody knows it’s the beginning of a new chapter.  Everyone is excited to see what Mr. Battle is bringing.  He’s a great person to be around. He has a really great energy that’s trickled down into the company and how we work with each other.  It’s good to be a part of it.

Has it been challenging changing the rep to include a Paul Taylor or Ohad Naharin piece?  For instance, Ohad’s work is so particular. Was it hard for your body, since you aren’t used to his technique?

It was difficult in the rehearsal process.  Some things came easier for some people.  “Arden Court” was a bit more natural for me.  It seemed more familiar than “Home”.  I’ve never been a hop hop dancer.  I love that whole genre of dance, but I’d never done it.  “Minus 16″ was just totally new for everybody.  It was research – a total investigation, pare down of everything you know and start from the beginning with a new language.  It was definitely something to get used to, but it was a lot of fun.  It made “Minus 16″ a lot easier to transition into once we’d started learning his way of moving.

Tell me about the Rennie Harris piece, Home.

We had a three-week workshop when he came in to set the piece.  A lot of people weren’t hip hop/house dancers and he wanted it to be authentic and not us just mimicking the moves he would teach us.  We learned the basic house language for the whole time he was there.  It was inspired by people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.  I think it’s more of a celebration of life and music and dance than it is anything else.  When you’re inspired by a topic like that, it can get really dark and heavy, but he wanted it to be about the music and the dance.  It’s a club setting, so we’re almost in a trance at times.  I really enjoy doing it.  It’s so much fun and you get to relax on stage.  The audiences everywhere we’ve gone really love it.  

Can you describe to me what it feels like to do Revelations.  It’s such an iconic work.  What’s it like to actually be doing it?

It’s definitely an experience, especially the first few times you do it.  You’re excited and thinking about the history of the piece and how many people have done it before.  I pretty much do it every night, so there’s always another chance to investigate and get deeper into it.  Sometimes it’s good to take a break and watch it from the audience, so you remember why everyone loves it so much.  You get the full effect of it, so when you go back, you have something to work with.  It’s really an experience to do such an historical work. 

Recently on the Ailey Facebook page, they asked the question: what is your favorite section of Revelations?  What’s yours?

My favorite section to do is “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel”.  It’s short and gets right to the point.  It’s high energy.  I don’t know why – out of all the sections – when I do it, I really feel like I’ve made an impact on the audience when I do it.  I really enjoy doing it. My favorite to watch is “I Wanna Be Ready”.  It has a lot to do with the people I get to watch do it.  Being able to watch Matthew Rushing from off stage do this piece is ridiculous. 

Your bio includes this quote:  “Dance for me is becoming more and more about discovery and imagination.”  Can you explain that?

I started to think about this in Ailey II when we started to tour and perform a lot…to think of ways to keep what I’m doing fresh, not just for me but for the audience. If a dancer is over what they’re doing, the audience totally feels that.  I’ve been trying to go a little deeper with everything I do.  I can focus on something different in “Minus 16″, every time I do it.  That’s been my discovery and revelation in a way.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – April 11 – 15 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy

Tickets are $30-$90. Call 800.982.2787 or visit ticketmaster.com/auditorium.