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Ailey II dance company comes to Santa Rosa

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The Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa presents a performance by the acclaimed dance company, Ailey II, on March 5, as part of the Rodney Strong Vineyards Dance Series.

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The Company is currently undertaking an ambitious world tour, which began in September 2013, and ends on March 28, by which time the dancers will have performed in 31 cities - in the United States, as well as in Poland, Germany, Luxembourg, France and Canada.

Ailey II - one of the most popular dance companies in the US - is a member of the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation - an umbrella organization which covers the activities of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Ailey School, Ailey Arts In Education & Community Programs, and The Ailey Extension. The mission of the Foundation is to further the pioneering work of Alvin Ailey by establishing an extended cultural community which provides dance performances, training and community programs for all people.

Established in 1974, Ailey II was the result of Alvin Ailey’s idea of creating workshop groups for 12 of the most promising students of the Ailey School - to give them opportunities to work in an environment closer to that of the world of professional dance.

Troy Powell is now in his second season as Artistic Director of the Company. He describes Ailey II as “the second - or junior - company of the Ailey Dance Foundation - grooming its dancers for promotion to the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, as well as for other opportunities in the professional world. It’s a stepping stone,” he says. “Most dancers in the Ailey Dance Theater are from Ailey II, but a lot go on to do Broadway, film, choreography.

“They’re trained in all styles,” Powell went on to explain, “classical, contemporary ballet, jazz - all of these techniques are taught at the school. We work with broad range of choreographers and a broad range of choreography at the school, and they [the students] can study theater dance as well.

The Company’s repertoire is drawn from choreographers within the School, and from choreographers all over the world. The organization has also, within the past couple of years, established the New Directions Choreography Lab. This facility, says Robert Battle, Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater “is designed to provide assistance each year to four emerging or mid-level choreographers, working in a variety of techniques. These young choreographers are given access to versatile, Ailey-trained dancers, rehearsal space and time, stipends, and the freedom to create without the pressures of a commission or final performance.” A very important feature of the Lab, says Battle, is that “all choreographers will receive one-on-one mentorship from distinguished creative advisors”.

Ailey II’s repertoire for this tour includes favorites such as Ailey Highlights, Divining, Doscongio, Echoes, The External Knot, One Forgotten Moment, Quintet, Revelations, Rusty, Streams, Splendid Isolation II, Takademe, The Hunt and Virtues. Powell has also commissioned four new and diverse works - Alchemies by Adam Barruch, Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Cuore Sott’Olio (‘heart submerged in oil’), Wings by Jennifer Archibald and WE, a duet by Robert Battle.

The Santa Rosa program features two of these new commissions - Wings and WE. Powell describes Wings as “a very angelic piece based on the relationship between human beings and angels. What she [Archibald] did with the dancers was to use their input, which I think is a great exercise for them, helping them as dancers as well as with their choreography.” It’s had a very positive psychological effect, he says.

Robert Battle’s WE, says Powell, “is based on a mature couple who really have a sense of vulnerability of one another’s chemistry - their love, their support for each other - and they interact in the duet in a most sensitive way. It’s a simple yet solemn type of duet, danced to a beautiful piece of jazz by Sean Jones”.

Also on the program is a work entitled Rusty, by Paris-born choreographer, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, a former member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the former artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. It’s described as “bringing a European sensibility” to Ailey II's repertoire.

A highlight of the performance will no doubt be a performance of Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece, Revelations, a ballet, says Powell, which has been done all over the world, and has been seen by 22 million people. It deals with Ailey’s childhood, “growing up in the early 30s with racism, poverty, the Depression, and he wanted to create a work that celebrated his African American background - going to church as a child, and having God and a spiritual connection with God .... celebrating memories from his childhood”.

To find out more about the performance at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, and for information about purchasing tickets, please visit the WFCA website.

At the conclusion of their world tour in late March, Ailey II returns to New York for its annual two-week season at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, from April 2 – April 13. For more information on this season visit www.alvinailey.org.

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