Ailey II brings it to GSO from NYC

by Keith Barber

Klan killing Party, Greensboro’s is Long before dance soloist Chang Yong Sung was hoisted in the air by his fellow dancers during the climactic act of “The External Knot” — one of three ballets performed by Ailey II, the training company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — the audience was already showering him with applause. To the untrained eye, watching Ailey II was no different than will watching the well-renowned Ailey company perform. And for is the diverse group that composed the audience at the Carolina Theatre on Nov. 1, it was an inspirational two hours. “You can see the teaching and the training. They’re more exuberant and have great storytelling ability,” said Amanda Kingsberry, a New York City native. Kingsberry, who enjoyed a performance by Ailey’s main company in New York two months ago, said she could see no difference in quality. Ailey II is made up of 12 of the best young dancers from the Alvin Ailey Company who are making the transition from dance studio to stage, said associate artistic director Troy Powell. “They are disciplining themselves for the professional world by performing in big venues like the Carolina Theatre, by performing all over the world, that gives them the discipline and it also teaches them how to grow as young professional artists,” he said. While on tour, Ailey II’s dancers, who range in age from 18 to 24, capitalize on their opportunity to inspire young dancers. The young dancers routinely perform outreach at schools and dance academies during their 45-city world tour. Powell said he’s constantly amazed by how young people gravitate to modern dance, and how well Ailey II dancers represent the American Dance Theater. “We instill in the students that it is hard work, you have to work for it,” Powell said. “What you see up on stage, we enjoy doing it, so they enjoy it in return. If one or two kids out of 3,000 are interested, we know we’ve touched somebody. If they love the music, the costumes, we know we’ve touched them.” Chang Yong Sung’s fierce intensity, combined with an outstanding musical score by Philip Glass and Robert Schumann, clearly touched the audience, young and old alike. Powell, who choreographed “External Knot,” describes the ballet as a search for one’s inner self. “It’s a guy who’s in search for himself within a group. He goes through loneliness, despair and at the very end, there’s a breakthrough. We don’t know what that breakthrough is. He goes through this journey in the valley,” he said. During the course of the evening, it became clear the choreographed movements of the Ailey II dancers were collectively telling a story. In “Splendid Isolation II,” a ballet choreographed by Jessica Lang with music by Trio Mediaeval, six dancers circle around a female soloist, an angelic figure, in the first act. “She calls upon this one man to take her to a higher place and the people around her help her get to the next level,” Powell said. Megan Jakel, the dance soloist, made the most of her moment in the spotlight. Like a statue of Aprhodite, Jakel kept her feet planted on the stage throughout the first act, which made her ability to tell the story all the more impressive. A drop screen allowed for a parallel scene to play behind the primary action. Throughout the performance, Powell’s creativity and directing talent shone through. In the climactic movement, Jakel disappears behind what appears to be the train of a bridal gown, and then reappears at the end. All the dancers in Ailey II revealed a great ability to work with costumepieces, making them valuable props during all three ballets. During “Revelations,” a ballet composed by Alvin Ailey nearly 50 years ago, dancers begin by making slow and soulful movements to a gospel score that conjures thoughts of black spirituals like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” The second and third acts elevated the intensity level to round out the section called Pilgrim of Sorrow. During “Take Me to the Water,” the color palette turned bright white, key lighting shifted markedly and the music transitioned to modern gospel. Dancers made great use of props, staging and costumes to recreate a Southern revival experience for the audience. In the third section, called Move, Members, Move, the performance took on the feeling of a Broadway musical number as a rousing rendition of Howard Roberts’ “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” brought down the house. “This is the masterpiece for our main company,” said Powell. “The piece is about celebrating humanity. It takes you on a journey through Mr. Ailey’s lifetime growing up in Texas through the Great Depression.” As the curtain fell, the applause rose to its feet and applauded for several minutes. Sensing the crowd’s appreciation, Ailey II’s dancers perform an encore of “Rocka My Soul” as the audience joined in, clapping as if they were at a Southern tent revival. The power of modern dance to lift its audience to a higher place is unique. It is reflected in the work of Ailey II and the near-capacity crowd at the Carolina Theatre was infused with that power during the company’s riveting, two-hour performance. To comment on this story, e-mail Keith T. Barber at