“The legacy of Mr Ailey is very simple: he was empowered by empowering others…”

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Matthew Rushing in Aszure Barton’s LIFT. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

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...and we take this empowerment all over the world"

This is entirely truthful as Synne and I join Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre on the last part of their UK tour to The Lowry in Salford, Manchester. The Lowry is situated in Media City; the hub of BBC and ITV television studios in the North of England.

As soon as we arrived in Salford, we got straight to business. We were introduced to Steve Cowton – Head of Theatre Operations – to go through the Company complimentary tickets and other Box Office figures. Heather Knight (Dance Consortium) later went into detail about tickets sales and information on sponsorship agencies, competition with musicals, average tickets prices and other sales factors that we would not have otherwise learnt about.

The Lowry is the only venue on the tour who decided to showcase Programme F, which includes: Lift, Four Corners, Cry and, of course, Revelations. I discovered that the CEOs of the theatres watch Vimeos of the dance companies before deciding which programme would best suit their audiences.

The show was very well received by the audiences, with almost a full standing ovation both nights. I became fascinated with the audience demographic and how different their reactions can be. With a heavy student audience – as Ailey is in the curriculum for A Level dance – the reactions were much more lively and people were clapping in places that hadn’t been applauded before!

On Wednesday morning I accompanied Matthew Rushing, Ailey’s Rehearsal Director and Guest Artist, to the Dancehouse in Central Manchester for a Masterclass with 30 CAT students. It was a very interesting taxi journey chatting one on one with him about his choreographic work as well as his interest in other dance companies and shows.

Alvin Ailey Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Akua Noni Parker and Demetia Hopkins Greene in Alvin Aileys Revelations Photo by Gert Krautbauer Zurich

Alvin Ailey Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Akua Noni Parker and Demetia Hopkins Greene in Alvin Aileys Revelations Photo by Gert Krautbauer Zurich

The students were aged 14-17 and all have dreams of becoming professional dancers. Each student showed a lot of potential and were extremely hard working; definitely a talented group! Rushing taught them a number of new techniques (mostly Horton) to African American Gospel music. They learnt how to move their bodies in different ways, building on the techniques they learn in their normal syllabus. These workshops help them expand on their musicality, expression and overall versatility; vital for any dancer. Matthew offers individual suggestions and improvements, but has a highly positive teaching technique. He states “Classical Ballet is your base and you add skills on top of that” and that they should use these skills in every class, as what you learn in one can always be applied in another. I find it amazing to see the Ailey dancers not only inspire the audience with their performances, but share their passion and skills with young, receptive dancers.

Towards the end of the workshop, the CAT students learnt steps from ‘Does My Lord Deliver Daniel’ from the Revelations repertoire. It is important to share the love and empowerment of Ailey’s most joyous piece all over the globe. Not only did the dancers learn more about the piece, but even though I had watched the show several times, Matthew gave his interpretation of the dance and showed new meaning to every move. Revelations, based on Ailey’s blood memories of Southern America, is a collection of very old songs with hidden meanings dating back to the days of slavery. The choreography is pretty simple but “depth comes in what you bring to it”. For example, ‘Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel’ represents being bound by ropes and resisting oppression – literally or metaphorically. He believes that artists have the responsibility to find their personal ideas and apply them to what is given to you.

Overall, the workshop definitely installed confidence and comfort in their abilities as dancers. Matthew concluded with some strong words of advice: Be more hungry. Find your hunger and run with it. There are a lot of young talented dancers in the same position- what makes YOU special? Once you leave the sheltered dance school walls you will have to prove yourself and you cannot be afraid to show it. Always give more.

In the interval of the final Lowry performance I was given to opportunity to chat with Mark Skipper, CEO of Northern Ballet. I heard his insight about ACE funding, their programming and about the tours Northern Ballet co-ordinate. He is a really interesting man and I hope to research more of their work.

The highlight of Salford for me was watching ‘Cry’ from the wings. I had escorted Steve Green, the Front of House Manager backstage to present Jacqueline Green flowers after performing the 17 minute solo. As this piece is incredibly strenuous and requires lots of stamina, the dancers stand in the wings to cheer and support her to keep up her energy. It is a privilege to perform ‘Cry’, as only five women in the company have been asked to do it, so it was wonderful to watch the other performers care this much for their peers.

After packing up we were ready for the next theatre- Southampton here we come!