Alvin Ailey: Dance on a “Spiritual and Cellular Level”

By Mary Hierholzer

 
Solomon Dumas in Ailey II circa 2010. Photo by Eduardo Patino, NYC.

Solomon Dumas in Ailey II circa 2010. Photo by Eduardo Patino, NYC.

 

Passion, expression and strength. Since its founding in 1958, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has emerged to global fame for its artistic interpretation of diversity, growing to exist as an organization that not only includes professional performances, but also offers arts education, national outreach and programming for underprivileged youth.

In 2016, 28-year-old Solomon Dumas became the first AileyCamp alum to enter the main company. Anticipating their return to Boston at the Wang Theater, April 27–30, The Boston Dance Journal interviewed Mr. Dumas to hear his story and glean insights into the experience of dancing in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

 Boston Dance Journal: What has it been like to tour and perform worldwide with this renowned company?

Solomon Dumas: Performing with this company has been a dream come true. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was the first concert dance company I followed as a youngster. After my first viewing of this company, I was hooked. This lead to the start of my quest to join the Ailey organization. I have had the opportunity to dance alongside some of the artists who inspired me to become a dancer. That in itself is amazing. Being able to share your passion with the world is a blessing. I'm still amazed by how the company is so positively received globally.

BDJ: How has your experience in the Ailey Organization influenced your career? Has it been a smooth transition into the company?

SD: My journey with Ailey began with one of the organization's outreach programs, AileyCamp. Before Mr. Ailey's death, he wanted to create a program designed to share the discipline of dance with inner city and underserved youth, who wouldn't have access to dance classes. This program came to be “AileyCamp." This was where I had my first introduction to the discipline of dance. From there, I decided to pursue dance seriously. I auditioned for Chicago High School for the Performing Arts, and was admitted. While in high school, I received scholarships to attend Ailey summer intensives in New York City. Some years later, after college, I returned to New York City to study as a fellowship level 1 student, subsequently being selected to become a member of Ailey II. I've also had the opportunity to dance with Ronald K. Brown/ Evidence, A Dance Company.

In 2016, (Artistic Director) Robert Battle selected me to become a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Being a member of this company has become one of the most challenging yet invigorating experiences of my life. My journey to this point in my career has been a long but cherished one. I've met so many amazing people and artists along the way.

BDJ: How does the program you’ll be performing in Boston reflect Alvin Ailey’s legacy and vision?

SD: Our artistic director, Robert Battle, has maintained Ailey's legacy of diversity within the company's repertoire. Mr. Battle is providing opportunities for evolving and emerging choreographers that push boundaries and honor the tradition of social justice. We have some exciting premieres, as well revivals of past works. One of the season company premieres is a work entitled Walking Mad by Johan Inger, set to Ravel's Bolero. For me, the work depicts a series of relationships in different forms and circumstances. There is also a wall incorporated in the work, which the dancers manipulate and maneuver. It is interesting to see how the wall transforms the space, and how it can be interpreted as a symbol of the barriers people construct in their relationships.

 
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Solomon Dumas. Photo by Andrew Eccles.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Solomon Dumas. Photo by Andrew Eccles.

 

One of today's most in-demand choreographers is MacArthur “Genius” grant winner Kyle Abraham. His work Untitled America pertains to the country's mass incarceration system, and its effect on African-American families. I believe this work speaks to the legacy that Robert Battle is preserving. The piece was choreographed in three installments, over a period from 2015 to 2016. Untitled America is set to soul, ambient, gospel and electronic music mixed with the narration of former prisoners and others impacted. At moments, the piece can evoke haunting images of recent events that plagued our country. In the rehearsal process, Kyle spoke about images he saw in the media, and it is amazing how he was able to translate these ideas in the work. This process has been a cathartic experience for the dancers. Untitled America couldn't be more timely and poignant, especially with the unrest that has happened in our country.

Another work I am excited to perform is the revival of Billy Wilson's, The Winter in Lisbon. This work is sure to lift your spirits and maybe make you chuckle. It is a sexy work choreographed to the smooth sounds of Dizzy Gillespie. The piece is definitely a feast for the senses. The finale is my favorite movement. The dancers have a ball onstage, and the energy is infectious. It is important to have celebratory works to uplift us from the stresses of our day to day lives. 

BDJ: This company stages deep and expressive piece—tell me what it means personally to dance this repertoire.

SD: Personally, Revelations is a work that I connect with on a spiritual and cellular level. Mr. Ailey used his memories of growing up in the church in the rural south to convey a universally recognized message of hope. This message translates beautifully in his choreography. This choreography resonates with me because I have roots in the South. The songs we dance to in Revelations are songs I heard my grandparents sing. This work beautifully encapsulates the African-American experience. 

BDJ: When you go onstage, what are you trying to communicate to an audience?

SD: As a dancer in the company, it is my duty to maintain the integrity of Ailey's mission. For me, it's much more spiritual than anything else. Being a witness to live theater is surreal. I hope I'm growing in a direction that provides inspiration to the viewer.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform at the Wang Theater in Boston, April 27–30, as part of the Boston Celebrity Series. The performance will include multiple premieres and the company’s signature piece, Revelations. For tickets and information, visit the Boston Celebrity Series webpage.