Ailey II’s commitment to community is evident.
On Tuesday, the company gathered on a soggy Bestor Plaza for a performance and demonstration that was cut short by the rain. Just as a few volunteers from the audience stepped to the stage, which, in this case, was grass, rain started to fall. Before that, though, more than 100 Chautauquans encircled the company, some even watching from their balconies and porches, to watch Ailey II perform a selection of works from their repertoire.
“We want to touch every person through these experiences,” said Troy Powell, Ailey II’s artistic director. “It’s relevant to everyone.
Jacoby Pruitt, a second-year dancer in the company, performed an intimate, intense duet with Christopher R. Wilson, a first-year dancer, that started in silence. Then, as the piece progressed, music was introduced.
“It was nice to see the entire community come out and be so enthralled with it,” Pruitt said. “It allows us to come into what it is that we’re doing and sharing.”
Ailey II will teach a family master class at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Girls’ Club followed by a lecture and demonstration at 5 p.m. in the Amphitheater.
“That’s our responsibility — to make you become a dancer,” Powell said. “You don’t have to be a dancer.”
Ailey II caps their residency with a final performance at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater.
Before Ailey II’s first performance on Monday night, Powell opened the Chautauqua Dance Circle’s pre-performance lecture series in Smith Wilkes Hall. He spoke of his experience training under Alvin Ailey at 14 years old, an experience that catalyzed his path to becoming a choreographer.
“He was sort of that father figure to us,” Powell said. “He spoke more than he choreographed and spoke more than he taught. He really spoke about the next generation of dance and carrying this legacy to where it is today.”
Aside from Ailey, Powell learned from Judith Jamison, a former artistic director for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and esteemed choreographer, Ulysses Dove, Dwight Rhoden and other choreographers before becoming one himself.
“It takes a special gift to be able to choreograph,” Powell said. “It was very intimidating at first.”
Powell said he has to select music before even attempting to choreograph, then draws inspirations from “the bodies, the dancers themselves.”
“Mr. Powell is such an insightful man,” Pruitt said. “He has a very keen sense on what Mr. Ailey’s legacy is and how he as a director is going to push it forward, and the guidance and instruction that we as the dancers need to hear in order to make the vision whole.”
As the dancers warmed up during Monday’s open rehearsal, Powell played gospel, ’90s R&B and “Adios,” a track from the relatively unknown U.K.-born composer, singer and poet Benjamin Clementine.
While “Adios” played, Powell improvised a series of movements, including a gasp-worthy drop to the floor. The dancers indeed gasped, then applauded before attempting it themselves.
Powell may no longer dance for a company, but he is still a dancer. For Powell, dancing is storytelling, and choreography brings together the stories of both the dancers and the choreographer.
“Your story will begin to match with their story,” Powell said. “They take your movement to a whole new level and bring intention and their own stories to it.”
Ailey created his company in 1958 with eight of his friends. Its 60-year-anniversary is coming up in 2018, something that Powell doesn’t take lightly.
“We have to keep moving on, keep pushing. It’s really my responsibility to expose people to dance and to his legacy,” Powell said.
Powell considers himself a vessel for Ailey’s vision which, for Powell and so many other dancers, has allowed them to create their own.
“You do what you do because you love it. You do what you do because you’re passionate about it,” Powell said. “You do what you do because you’re trying to educate, you’re trying to grow as a person. And you do what you do to try and create your own legacy.”