Blending modern dance and ballet, ethnic traditions and groundbreaking choreography, the Alvin Ailey II dancers bring emotion to life with motion.
Alvin Ailey II performs at 7:30 Friday night at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. The company will feature three dances, including choreographer and company founder Alvin Ailey's modern classic, "Revelations."
Artistic director Sylvia Waters said "Revelations" celebrates joy, grief, hope and the range of emotions all people share. The timelessness and beauty of wedding rituals is the theme of another dance, and a third, "Sensory Feast," explores introspection and self-reflection.
The dozen young dancers, in their late teens and early 20s, are accompanied by a seven-member road crew handling the lights, costumes, set pieces and logistics required to stage the dances. The six men and six women in Alvin Ailey II hail from Jamaica, Japan, and across the United States. All have completed advanced dance programs at Ailey's New York City dance academy as well as other school and conservatories. Company members typically spend two years with Alvin Ailey II, honing their skills before pursuing professional careers in dance.
Alvin Ailey II was formed in 1974 as a complement to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. That company, which features 30 dancers and a support crew of 20, is currently performing in Salt Lake City.
Choreographer, dancer and director Alvin Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958 as a modern dance company well grounded in ballet, jazz and ethnic styles. At the time, it was an all-Black company and early choreography reflected African-American experiences, heritage and traditions.
"Ailey really gave a voice to the Black experience in America," said Sybil Davis of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, which is sponsoring Alvin Ailey II. "'Cry' and 'Revelation' - those pieces are landmarks of modern dance."
Ailey integrated the company in the 1960s, and continued to emphasize the blend of dance styles. He continued to guide the company until his death in 1989.
Davis said one of Ailey's early hallmarks was the strength and athleticism of the dancers, who were trained in a variety of genres. That's still true today.
"Most dancers, you look at them and you can tell what area they are skilled in," said Juneau dancer, teacher and choreographer Becky Engstrom, who has seen the principal Ailey company perform. "It's hard to look at the (Ailey) dancers and peg them as one kind of dancer. They have such versatility and their technique is so well-polished."
The Alvin Ailey II company's tour of Alaska includes performances in Anchorage, Kodiak, Fairbanks and Ketchikan, and coincides with Black History Month.
In addition to the Friday performance, several dancers will teach a master class at 7 tonight at the Juneau Dance Unlimited Studio.
"They are very keen on outreach," said Davis of the Arts and Humanities Council, which is sponsoring Alvin Ailey II. "It's important for them to share choreography and technique. That's the Ailey legacy and they're very committed to that."
Davis said the class will be mixed levels for intermediate and advanced dancers.
"It's probably not good to be a raw beginner, but don't have to be an expert to take the class," she said. "Three teachers will lead and they are very skilled."
Riley Woodford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.