Beloved World Class Dance Theater Keeps It All in the Family

Artistry on a world-class level encompasses time, talent, discipline and hard work. But in the case of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, bringing its North American Tour with world and company premieres to The Smith Center April 19-20, it also means family. Just ask dancer Daniel Harder.

Harder, who joined the company in 2010, is a graduate of the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program and a former member of Ailey II (the junior company). His challenge was to wrap his head around being a member of such a world-renowned dance company. The warm welcome made the transition seamless. “I definitely felt a sense of community because the dancers in the company, the crew and the people on staff definitely treat you like family,” he said.

The combined professional and family feeling stems from the top. The leader is Robert Battle, who became artistic director of Alvin Ailey in July 2011 after being selected by Judith Jamison, who had led the organization for 21 years. Alvin Ailey, who founded the company in 1958, named Jamison as his successor.

“Since his first year, he’s always been very clear about wanting to maintain a sense of community among the dancers and trying to push the boundaries in the way the Ailey company is seen -- but honoring the past, too,” said Harder.

In “honoring the past,” the company is also presenting new productions of the Ailey classic, “Cry,” bestowed to “all black women everywhere.” Also included in The Smith Center production: Christopher Wheeldon’s dreamlike “After the Rain Pas de Deux” and the company’s classic “Revelations.” Alvin Ailey’s signature masterpiece, “Revelations,” has become a cultural treasure that has transcended generations. Audiences are transformed by the African-American spirituals.

Battle, honored as one of the “Masters of African-American Choreography” by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, brings two of his works to The Smith Center. “Awakening,” his first world premiere since becoming artistic director, leads the audience on a liberating journey of dissonance and harmony, chaos and resolution. In “No Longer Silent,” (originally choreographed in 2007) Battle’s stirring work highlights a score from Erwin Schulhoff, a composer who died in a concentration camp in 1942.

In addition to Battle’s world and company premieres, two other dynamic world premieres feature Ronald K. Brown’s Cuban-influenced “Open Door” and Hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris’ “Exodus.”

For students, there’s a special presentation of “Toccata” -- set in the streets of New York that integrates classic and other dance styles in a jazz idiom. “Toccata’s” music is by Grammy Award-winning Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin.

The schedule in a nutshell: Tuesday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. “Exodus”/“Awakening”/ “After the Rain Pas de Deux”/“Revelations”; Wednesday, April 20 at 10:30 a.m. student performance of “Toccata”/“Revelations”; and Wednesday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. “Open Door”/“Cry”/“No Longer Silent”/“Revelations.”

The fertile variety of dance, the diversity of the world and company premieres and the range of talented performers would seem to be more than enough for an evening (or two) of inspiration. But it is the dedication of the dancers that make these works of art…work. “Dance is not just a career -- it’s a lifestyle. It’s something you have to give yourself [to] completely,” said Harder.

As Harder noted, it’s easier to give yourself when it’s all in the family.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs April 19 & 20 in Reynolds Hall. Click here for tickets or call 702.749.2000.

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