Ailey II

New York dance company in concert at Castle Theater

Ailey II dancers appear in “Sketches of Flames.” Kyle Froman photo

“The most unique thing is you,” is what legendary dance innovator Alvin Ailey frequently told his students. Troy Powell, artistic director of Ailey II (formerly the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble), shared that quote with me in a phone interview last week. I had asked Powell why tonight’s performance by Ailey II was must-see theater for Maui audiences.

“Whether you have heard of Alvin Ailey or not, when you come to an Ailey performance it can be life-changing,” he said. “We don’t perform just for people in the dance community, we perform for everyone. As dancers, we share our own unique story and hope the audience gets something out of it – that they take what they see into their lives no matter if they are dancers, actors, doctor, teachers or lawyers.”

In 2012, Powell, who began his dance training at the age of 9 as a scholarship student at The Ailey School, became only the second person to lead Ailey II since its inception in 1974.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater evolved from a now-fabled performance in March of 1958 in New York City. Led by Ailey and a group of young African-American modern dancers, that performance is said to have changed forever the perception of American dance.

A childhood friend and contemporary of Ailey, the equally legendary Carmen de Lavallade, was scheduled to perform at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in 2015 but had to cancel due to illness. She, along with Ailey, faced with limited performance avenues in the 1950s, paved the way for African-American dancers today. I asked Powell to comment on Ailey’s contribution to American dance.

“I think when he started, he wanted to celebrate African-American heritage, as there weren’t many options,” he said. “He created a movement celebrating his culture through dance, which later became diverse culturally, incorporating all ages, cultures, races, beliefs to relate all unique perspectives through choreography.”

Ailey II embodies Ailey’s mission to establish an extended cultural community that provides not just dance performances and training but also community outreach programs for all people. Ailey was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his life work by President Barack Obama in 2014. Today, Ailey II continues his vision by performing pieces from its illustrious past and commissioning new additions. Tonight’s performance features four works from the company’s current repertory, “In & Out,” “Gemeos,” “Something Tangible” and a premiere, “Sketches of Flames.”

I asked Powell to explain the choreographer’s process of expressing new ideas and stories through movement without the aid of words.

“Some use words, it’s hard not to,” he said. “We use our breath. For example if you have to cry, we’re pulling that acting out. We’re not just dancers, we’re actors too; dancers are expressing emotions through their bodies. It’s a great process. If a choreographer gives the dancers some imagery and a story, then the dancer delves into the emotions that accompany the story by pushing their body to present the emotion. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s a part of the experience.”

Two dancers with Maui ties began as students with the Ailey school. Nathaniel Hunt was last seen on Maui performing with Adaptations Dance Theater’s “Bring It Home” and the Alexander Academy of Performing Arts ballet “Alice in Wonderland.”

“Nathaniel is a former member and student,” Powell said. “He is a beautiful dancer.”

Vanessa Cerrito, ballet instructor at Seabury Hall, also studied dance at Alvin Ailey.

“I remember her as being a wonderful spirit and a beautiful dancer as well,” Powell said. “At Ailey, all of the students are encouraged to participate in lots of youth outreach and master classes. We train all our dancers to be great teachers as well, so it’s not surprising that they’ve made that outreach connection to dance students in Hawaii.”

ALSO THIS WEEK

Celebrate Pacific Whale Foundation’s World Whale Day with Maui’s Adaptations Dance Theater. Dancers will present “Whale Song” in partnership with Trilogy Excursions, an all-inclusive sunset cruise that will feature food, drink, whale watching and a dance performance to the live sounds of humpback whales.

The event will raise funds for the group’s second annual “Bring it Home” event featuring the dancers of ADT and guest soloist Nathaniel Hunt.

* The cruise will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday out of Maalaea Harbor. Admittance is a minimum donation of $99, with reservations and more information available at www.adaptationsdancetheater.com.

OPPORTUNITIES

ProArts Inc will be holding open-call auditions for “Dial M for Murder” at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Pro Arts Playhouse in Kihei. Appointments are not necessary.

Actors should be prepared to cold-read from the script. Roles for four men and one woman are available.

* Performances of “Dial M for Murder,” directed by Francis Tau’a, will run weekends April 14 through 30. For more information, visit www.proartsmaui.com.

*****

Maui OnStage will be holding auditions for “A Few Good Men” on Monday at the Maui OffStage studio in Wailuku. Audition appointments, scheduled in 10-minute increments starting a 6 p.m., are required.

Actors should bring a headshot and a resume and prepare a one- to two-minute monologue.

* Performances of “A Few Good Men,” directed by Rick Scheideman, will run weekends April 28 through May 14. Character descriptions, directions to Maui OffStage and more information are available at www.mauionstage.com. To schedule an appointment, call 244-8680.

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