Events: The Fine Arts Aren't Dying. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Proves It
The curtain opens to a colorful burst of moving bodies. It’s hard for your eyes to keep up with their actions- their arms, legs, hips vibrate, sway, twirl in skin tight body suits.
|18-year veteran dancer Glenn Allen Sims is this season's poster boy.|
The audience is silent. They’re mesmerized. It’s the opening dance, Polish Pieces, in the Sunday matinee, the final show in Atlanta for the Alvin Ailey 2015 season tour.
The history of this American dance company dates by to 1958, with about a dozen dancers. Alvin Ailey may not have had a vision for the legacy that’s his dance company is now. But he did try to build something with meaning.
|The Fox Theatre in Atlanta was the set for this shoot.|
Ailey grew up during the great depression, during segregation and to a single mother. The arts were his escape. The arts opened doors that literally took him around the world.
With his Alvin Ailey American Dance theater, Ailey choreographed a dynamic and vibrant mix growing out of his previous training in ballet, modern dance, jazz, and African dance techniques. No one had seen it before. No one does it like them today. It’s the legacy he left that resonates with veteran dancer Glenn Allen Sims.
“Every morning that I wake up it’s a blessing to say that I’m an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer, because of that legacy and because that history.”
|Alvin Ailey dancer, Glenn Allen Sims|
Check this season’s poster and you’ll see it is Sims perfectly posed, yet flying in the air. He enters his 18th year with the company, and for him to be the face of the tour this season is a full circle moment.
“The iconic photo of Ailey, you know where his back is bent and you see that he doesn’t have the traditional dancers build. I had that photograph on my wall when I went to Julliard. I didn’t know him at all, but he’s was a sort of mentor to. He inspired me.”
|Jacqulyn Buglisi's Suspended Women|
When compared to the performances of competing, mostly white, dance companies, Sims says the biggest difference with the Ailey group is in stories, and how the audience reacts to them.
“It’s tangible versus fanciful. It’s something that reaches the human spirit, the heart.” Sims said that when black people started seeing a reflection of themselves and their their stories told in this way, that is when they related to the fine arts.
“Not saying that the other companies don’t touch you, but there’s just something about the artistic quality that the dancers in this company possess.”
For years there have been complaints of the decrease in interest from those in the fine arts community. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, about 33% of adults in the U.S. have visited a visual arts attraction. But the studies also show that audiences are becoming more diverse. Sims agrees.
“From where I see it on the stage, the arts are thriving. Our audience is more diverse, and you get to see more [of the fine arts] on TV now. Social media has also opened up many doors.”
Plus, going to the theater forces you to put down the devices, because they’re not allowed, and watch, listen and feel the experience.
Sims say the biggest challenge he sees is that people still don’t know who Alvin Ailey is. “I mean his company has been around for over 50 years!.”
And to remedy that he hopes to attract children of color to come to the shows and participate in local workshops, like the Ailey Arts in Education and Community Programs held in New York City.
The 2015 U.S. tour runs through June. Visit www.alvinailey.org for dates in a city near you.