When Shuaib Dee Elhassan began his dance training at 12 years old at The Ailey School in New York City, he never imagined himself as a contemporary ballet dancer. "Ailey was all I knew—Ailey was the dream," he says. But as he got older and was introduced to a range of classical and contemporary companies, something changed. "I began to appreciate something totally different," he says. And now as a member of San Francisco–based Alonzo King LINES Ballet, a promising career in contemporary ballet is shaping up.
Need something fabulous to do this week? We've got you covered. Here are five dance performances happening in NYC between now and Sunday, June 16, that you should check out.
When Danica Paulos left Southern California at 17 to train in New York City at The Ailey School while she finished high school, she had no idea that she'd be dancing with the professional company within four years. She completed the school's professional program (on scholarship), then landed a spot with Ailey II. After a year, she was invited to replace an injured dancer in the main company, and when her Ailey II season ended, Robert Battle invited her to continue full-time.
Martha Myers, second from the left, was dean of American Dance Festival for more than 25 years. Photo by Peter Cunningham, courtesy of ADG
The event, Celebrating Diversity, September 7–10, features work by 30–35 choreographers from around the world. Modern choreographer Garth Fagan, beloved educator Martha Myers and Thunderbird American Indian Dancers will also be honored at the event, held at Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York City.
Though Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater enjoys super-star status as a company, its leaders know great dance often grows from humble beginnings. As part of the organization’s Arts in Education department, AileyCamp is designed to serve inner-city middle-school students nationwide. This summer, the oldest AileyCamp location, Kansas City, Missouri, celebrates 25 years of vital dance outreach. Other locations—from Miami to Newark—adhere to the same principles that have guided Kansas City for the past quarter-century.
Children must apply for the tuition-free summer camp, though dance experience is not a prerequisite. The most important attribute for students is the desire to learn and grow. Former Ailey dancer and director of the Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp David W. McCauley says, “[Alvin Ailey] gently reminded us of our responsibility to give our very best. Remember who you are, imagine who you wish to be, and give it your all!” He adds, “Mr. Ailey always said to his dancers, ‘You are all gods and goddesses!’” AileyCamp presents similarly supportive “daily affirmations,” or resolutions of love and encouragement, ceremoniously recited by a different camper each day.
The day camp offers classes in ballet, jazz, Horton technique, and West African dance, as well as workshops that foster self-expression and personal development. The program also provides counseling in nutrition, conflict resolution, sexual responsibility, and substance abuse prevention. Dancers participate in a culminating public performance at the end of the six-week session.
Photo by Joe Epstein, alvinailey.org
Having to learn a large chunk of new material in a short amount of time isn't a new conundrum for dancers, but that doesn't make it any less stressful. Elisa Clark, who has previously danced for Lar Lubovitch and Mark Morris, recently joined Ailey—just in time for the company's performances this weekend at Lincoln Center. Luckily, she's learned from Lubovitch that the best way to solidify choreography is to make the movement her own.
"Two years ago I was learning a piece that Lar had created on someone else, and there was a lot of intricate partnering. Every time we'd try something and it wouldn't work, I would say, 'Sorry, sorry' to my partner. Lar came over to me and said, 'Elisa, I don't want you to apologize anymore, because every time you do, your whole body says it, too.' That's when I realized how much of a connection there is between the physical and the mental in dance. Lar invited me to take the time to decide how I wanted to execute every step."
Clark will perform with AAADT July 15-16, at New York City's David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. www.alvinailey.org
Photo courtesy of Elisa Clark