Vail Valley: Energy + motion = dance explosion |

Vail Valley: Energy + motion = dance explosion

Cassie Pence
Vail Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Andrew Eccles/Special to the Vail Daily

VAIL, Colorado –For Jamar Roberts, watching Alvin Ailey perform for the first time was what romantics call “love at first sight.” All it took was once, and the dancer, 16 at the time, saw his future.

“I remember people were exploding on stage. It was such high energy,” Roberts says. “It was the first type of dance I had seen like that. It was exuding energy and motion. Before that, I had seen a lot of traditional dance forms, and ballet can be stiff.”

Roberts has danced with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater since 2002, and he will dance lead roles in all three performances during opening night of Alvin Ailey’s two-night stint at the Vilar Performing Arts Center Tuesday and Wednesday.

Alvin Ailey travels to Beaver Creek from New York as part of its 20-city U.S. tour celebrating Judith Jamison’s 20th year as artistic director. Jamison is widely regarded as one of the principal figures of American dance. Among a list of accomplishments and awards, including 2009 TIME 100 Honoree, Kennedy Center Honors and National Medal of Arts, she also spearheaded the 2004 move to Alvin Ailey’s permanent home – The Joan Weill Center for Dance – the nation’s largest building for dance.

“Judith Jamison as a dancer was a star of stars and she was pivotal in making the Ailey company a major part of the arts in the 20th century,” says Damian Woetzel, the director of the Vail International Dance Festival. “And as a director she has made it possible for Ailey to be the phenomenon it is the 21st century. Her leadership has enabled the company to thrive in the wake of their founding genius’ passing – it is a tremendous and ongoing feat.”

Roberts isn’t the only one to feel an instant uniting with Alvin Ailey. The troupe’s undeniable strength is its ability to connect with the audience, whether the seats are filled with dance savants or people who were dragged to the theater. Part of it is the dancers raw physicality – the wow factor of high jumps, multiple spins and long leaps that fill Alvin Ailey’s choreography. Another part is the modern music that accompanies many of the pieces, from Nat King Cole to Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone. The stories, often exploring common human experiences, like the joys and complications of love relationships, are also very relevant.

But it’s not just the common-thread stories that make Alvin Ailey’s performance so poignant. It’s the way the dancers tell it that make it so easy for audience members to latch on to, and Roberts says it’s Jamison’s direction that helps produce this earthy, quintessential Ailey style.

“I think (Jamison) has taught me to be human on stage and when I dance, to be natural, as opposed to ‘here I am performing, look at me in my costume and in my make up.’ It’s a more internal approach to things as opposed to trying to impress somebody,” Roberts says. “She gives certain images to work with, and when doing that, it forces you in a way to be more natural, more human. It’s the only way you can make it believable for the audience is if you believe it yourself.”

One of Roberts’ favorite pieces, and one he feels is especially striking, is “Night Creature,” a classic piece choreographed by Alvin Ailey himself in 1975 and set to music by Duke Ellington. Alvin Ailey, including Roberts, will dance “Night Creature” during the second night of performances at the Vilar Center on Wednesday.

“You have the amazing music of Duke Ellington, the costumes, lighting, and it came together and created this charismatic, fun dance,” Roberts says. “There are so many things in the piece, emotionally, that the audience can grab on to and enjoy. There’s a lot of humor in it and a little flirtation action going on.”

Also on the bill is the company premiere “In/Side,” set to Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind,” as well as “Love Stories,” a piece that draws on variations of Lindy-hop, Philly-bop, hip-hop and other modern dance techniques to explore the love of movement. Both nights will feature “Revelations,” arguably Alvin Ailey’s most famous piece, which is both a sorrowful and hopeful dance set to a variety of African American religious music.

“A lot of the subjects we dance about have a high emotional quality and it’s uplifting,” Roberts says. “We put something out there on a more positive level that the audience can go away feeling great just seeing that performance.”

For those of you who think two nights of Alvin Ailey is just not enough can catch the troupe this summer at the Vail International Dance Festival running from July 27 to Aug. 10. For more details, visit

Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail who wishes she stayed in ballet class. E-mail comments about this story to

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