Originally created 01/16/04

Dancer's athletic style is seen in many pieces



Without the strong, often startling, presence of Alvin Ailey, the world of dance would be a much different place.

A true revolutionary, Mr. Ailey emerged in the 1950s, having studied with modern dance maven Martha Graham, espousing a unique and extremely athletic form of dance. Although Mr. Ailey died in 1989, his company continues, and dance professionals still acknowledge his contributions.

The Ailey II Dance Company will perform Monday at the Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.

Peter Powlus, the resident choreographer for the Augusta Ballet, said Mr. Ailey's style is personified by his incorporation of both moments of quiet beauty and raw power.

"That's the thing that always impressed me - the marriage of power and beauty," he said. "Usually, when you think of beauty, particularly in dance, you think of something very fragile. Ailey was the first to take it in another direction."

Choreographer Sarah Shoemaker said she has always responded to Mr. Ailey's thematic approach to dance. She recounted her first exposure to modern dance, a Vanderbilt University appearance by Ailey II.

"It made me feel things I had never felt before," she said. "When I started choreographing, I had these visions of lifts and things that I thought would look cool, but while I had a few good ideas, the pieces as a whole weren't that good. What I learned is that when you choreograph from the heart, you'll find the most success. That's an idea that comes from Ailey."

Like those of Bob Fosse and George Balanchine, Mr. Ailey's signature style today often finds its way into the work of other choreographers. Mr. Powlus said there are echoes of Mr. Ailey's masterwork, Revelations, in his own Hatfields and McCoys. Sutton Stracke, an Augusta Ballet dancer and a choreographer and former development manager at the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, said that beyond the pieces he left, that is Mr. Ailey's great contribution.

"The Alvin Ailey dance vocabulary increased the modern-dance vocabulary," she said. "Especially the jumps. You'll see his leaps over and over and over. People incorporate those into their work all the time. Of course, it's possible he got those from Martha (Graham). It's all pretty incestuous."

Renee Toole teaches dance at John S. Davidson Fine Arts School. She said Mr. Ailey is an essential part of the curriculum, not only because of his skill as a choreographer, but because he represents the potential of the form.

"He's always someone we target for study," she said. "There were other African-American directors and choreographers before him, but he was certainly the most successful and influential. I think that's because he was able to bring the African-American experience to the stage."

Mr. Ailey also brought a new style of dancer to the stage. The Ailey dancer is a true athlete, impossibly strong, bearing a well-defined athlete's body. Gone are the graceful ballerina lines, replaced by sinew and stony muscle.

"That athleticism is very much a part of dance now," Ms. Toole said. "Bob Joffrey described dancers as athletic artists, and the Ailey dancer personifies that. When you talk about movement, and the capacity to move, they are the very best."

Ms. Stracke said the real Alvin Ailey miracle is the long shadow he continues to cast across the dance landscape.

"Ailey goes to the City Center in New York in the middle of The Nutcracker and sells out 2,600 seats every time," she said. "That says something. You tell people you do modern dance, and the average person won't know what that means. But you tell them Ailey, and they can connect. That's power."

ON STAGE

THE PERFORMANCE: Ailey II, presented by the Augusta Ballet

THE DATE: 7 p.m. Monday

THE VENUE: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.

THE COST: $17-$40. Call 261-0555.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.