For almost 60 years, The Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre has been a platform for some of the most gifted and talented modern dancers in the world. Recently recognized for being an “Ambassador to the World” by the President of the United States, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre has always offered perspective and provided a window into African culture , as well as the African-American experience in America, through dance. Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre celebrates the richness of our history and solidifies it as not just African-American culture but simply, American culture.
Earlier this month, the Chicago Defender caught up with three Chicago area dancers of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, Vernard Gilmore, Renaldo Maurice, and Sarah Daley, to learn about their journey into becoming part of the legendary dance company.
Q: When was the first time you learned of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre?
Vernard: I went to Curie High School, and my friends in the dance department showed me a video of
Renaldo: I was 8 years old and they came to West Side Theatre Guild in Gary, Indiana where I’m from and Igot to see them perform. What I saw was people who looked like me on stage doing what they loved to do.
Sarah: My ballet teacher at the Faubourg School of Ballet in Hanover Park, IL used to organize group trips to the Auditorium Theatre and I got the chance to see them perform live there.
Q: When was the first time you performed live with Alvin Ailey?
Vernard: My first experience performing live was at Damrosch Park, which is an outdoor venue right at Lincoln Center. People were watching and hanging from trees. It was amazing.
Renaldo: I was actually with Ailey ll at the time and I got to perform with them at New York City Center. It was a combination of Ailey ll and the first company members and we came together to perform “Revelations”, Mr. Ailey’s master work.
Sarah: I started in 2011 and we were on an international tour to Germany. Norway, Russia, and Paris. It was quite a tour to start out on. It made me love what I do anymore.
Q: Was dancing for Alvin Ailey always a goal of yours?
Vernard: Yes. After I saw the video of Revelations I said “Okay, I want to dance there”. Also, seeing them perform live in Chicago, blew my mind.
Renaldo: Yes, most definitely!
Sarah: No, not really. It didn’t really seem possible for me at a young age.
Q: How did dancing for Alvin Ailey become a reality for you?
Vernard: I came to an audition that they had for a summer program in Chicago, I was wishing for it and got accepted into the school and spent a summer there. I finished school and was accepted into Ailey ll in New York, the junior company of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre.
Renaldo: The summer before my senior year in high school I participated in the Alvin Ailey summer program in New York. When it concluded, I was asked to audition for the year round fall program which meant I would have to complete my senior year of high school in New York. I was accepted and with the approval of my mother, moved to New York to pursue this opportunity. Once I graduated from high school I was accepted into Ailey ll as well as Julliard School of Dance. I chose Ailey ll and spent two years there. From there I was accepted into the first company.
Sarah: I was attending the Ailey School at Fordham University and my eyes started to open as far as styles of dance and I started to recognize my own potential in terms of the different ways I could move. I was exposed to people who had gone through the company and people who were invested in the Ailey legacy in some way and I started to fall in love with them and focus on becoming more than I thought I was, which was more of a classical dancer. Through that, as I completely invested myself into trying to move a different way, I started to be able to compete on a higher level. Opening myself up to that level of variety in dance allowed me to turn my artistry around.
Q: What does Alvin Ailey represent to you?
Vernard: It represents that all of our experiences are OUR experience and that if we can see that, we can see ourselves.
Renaldo: With so much going on in the world right now, for me, Ailey represents a voice. We are a voice through dance that not only touches African-American people but it touches the humanity of all people.
Sarah: It represents being able to expose people to the beauty of all human life. Being different people but coming together for the same goals. It represents being able to work in harmony with people from all different walks of life.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a part of Alvin Ailey?
Vernard: I’m just a kid from the South Side and I’ve been able to see the world. I don’t think I could have even visualized all of the cultural information and the knowledge I’ve acquired about the world without this experience. The good as well as the bad has made it all the more richer. It’s been an education that I could not have imagined. I feel blessed.
Renaldo: It is more than me. It is a dream come true and a blessing for me. Having the opportunity to be on stage with all of these talented people, doing what we love to do, traveling the world and making a living from it, you can’t ask for much more.
Sarah: I love being a part of something bigger than myself. This company has such a rich history and it can
reach so many people on so many different levels. I love the fact that I get the opportunity to go on stage and really move people and have a human experience.
Q: What’s next for you as a dancer?
Vernard: I want to choreograph. I feel like that’s my calling.
Renaldo: Right now. I’m just riding this wave. I’m at a good place within the company. The ballets that we are doing are really speaking to me and I am growing as a man as well as a dancer. There are a lot of things I want to do but right now I am happy here until something else speaks to my spirit.
Sarah: The world is my oyster. I would love to go into project based dance but right now I’m focusing on the fact that I’m here and making a mark within the company.
Q: What do you see in the future for Alvin Ailey Dance Studios?
Vernard: It’s going to continue to rage on. At this point, as long as we continue to honor the rich foundation of this dance company, I can only see success.
Renaldo: I see big things. We just received a Presidential award from President Barack Obama recognizing us as “Ambassadors of the World” and I believe under the leadership of Robert Battle Ailey will continue to move forward.
Sarah: It is going to continue on the upward path that it is. I think that it will continue to open people’s eyes to dance.