According to Powell, the power of Alvin Ailey’s second company has grown immensely since he was part of the group in the late ’80s and early ’90s before beginning his professional career. Now the artistic director, he describes Ailey II as moving from a workshop company to having a prestige and identity “unmatched” by any second company in the world.
“The bar, standard and the level keeps getting higher and higher. I think that’s because of the dancers, the intellect and what they have to bring to Mr. Ailey’s legacy, what they have to offer from their own experiences,” he said.
Ailey is one of the most famous modern dance choreographers of the 20th century and started the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York in 1958. Ailey II came along 1974.
It features one dozen hand-picked dancers from The Ailey School who stay with the company for two years. In that time, the young dancers tour the world and learn from a range of choreographers before they set off into their professional careers.
“They just fasten their seat belt and go for it,” said Powell.
The group, whose shows feature contemporary works, as well as classic Ailey, will be stopping in Santa Fe in partnership with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet as a part of its spring touring season.
The performance will include “Circular,” a contemporary ballet by Korean choreographer Jae Man Joo that Powell said comments on human emotions as the dancers interact with one another.
It will be followed by “Breaking Point” by Jamaican dancer and choreographer Renee McDonald. It’s a new piece for Ailey II that Powell described as a “modern, intense” work.
“(McDonald) wanted the dancers to think of something in the world that they wanted so bad and they’re continually reaching for it but they don’t quite get it, they don’t quite reach that point of existence,” said Powell. “At the very end, they just give up, they surrender, and they never get to that point.”
The show is anchored by “Revelations,” created by Ailey in 1960. It depicts his upbringing in Rogers, Texas. After decades of audiences seeing this performance, Powell said it’s the storyline and the unique movement that keeps people excited about it.
“What brings people closer to it is what the dancers bring to it each and every night,” he said. “And because they do it so much, each and every night, I encourage the dancers to tell a different story. So not only are they not bored with it, but the audience won’t be bored with it either.”
The piece’s final section, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” is a celebration that always gets the crowd on its feet.
“It’s all about humanity,” Powell said. “People can relate to that, and they’re touched and moved by that, as well.”