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Preview: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater comes to Chapel Hill, celebrates 65 years

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations 2022 ONG performance. Photo by Christopher Duggan_168.jpg
Photo by Christopher Duggan from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations 2022 Opening Night Gala performance.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Carolina Performing Arts will host the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Memorial Hall. These performances are part of the dance company's milestone anniversary season celebrating 65 years of bringing African American heritage and culture to stages across the world, from Chapel Hill to Paris.

Today, the dance company carries out the legacy and vision of its late founder, American dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey, through their performances that capture the richness of African-American experiences, according to the company's website. 

"Alvin Ailey was an American dancer — one of the best known Black American dancers of all time — and he had a style that has been codified and called kind of like the 'Ailey' style," Associate Director of Engagement at CPA Amanda Graham said. "So it's a particular kind of modern dance that lives in the United States and was born in the United States."

Christopher Wilson, a dancer in the company, said watching an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance as a child was the first time he felt represented by the stories, music and dancers on the stage.

Graham said the performances in Chapel Hill will showcase what the dance company has done historically and what they are doing now. Tuesday night's performance will feature new works from contemporary choreographers, while Wednesday night will be an evening of Ailey classics.

“I think audiences will be able to see how versatile a choreographer Mr. Ailey was and just, you know, these two works can look so different, but they came from the same man,” Wilson said.

Wilson described working with the company as a dream come true.

Seeing Ailey's work on stage is both a representation of Black history, the Black contemporary movement and Black futures, Graham said.

Jacquelin Harris, a dancer with the theater, said stepping into the incredible legacy enabled her to become a cultural ambassador for sharing stories deeply rooted in African American culture and heritage.

One such work is "Revelations," a dance that delves into a diverse range of emotions, from grief to joy to hope, through African American spirituals, song sermons, gospel songs and blues.

Harris, who will be performing in "Revelations" along with Wilson, said that the dance allows audience members to not only see Ailey's African American spiritual roots but also to open their hearts.

"I hope when they watch 'Revelations,' they see the triumph," Harris said. "At the end, they see the joy, they see the journey and they see me, hopefully."

Harris, a Charlotte native, said she is excited to be back in North Carolina and see her family witness what she does for a living.

"I felt like that when I was there — I didn't really have people who looked like me who were doing what I'm doing, especially at this scale," she said.

As a Black dancer, Harris said that she wishes to encourage young artists in their work and show them the possibilities of what art can do. 

After attending the performance, Harris said that she hopes people leave feeling more empowered and empathetic. She said that through these works, audience members will feel the power of unity and humanity to understand and recognize what makes people similar.

In her personal experience, Graham said she enjoys the incredible energy an Ailey performance brings to the room — with audience members engaging with the power on stage.

"We're all working together to create a better world for ourselves and for the people around us," Harris said.

Students and community members interested in attending the performance can purchase tickets on CPA's website. Student discounts are also available with a valid UNC One Card.

Beyond the show, intermediate dancers are invited to learn from current Ailey dancers in a Master Class hosted on Tuesday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Registration and tickets are available for purchase on CPA's website.

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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