Put on Those Dancing Shoes — the Ailey Dancers are Coming to Town
By Annette Hinkle
Back in 2011, Southampton Village commissioned a study to determine the feasibility of creating an arts district. In the end, the firm that put together the study found that while the village was well represented when it came to offerings such as theater, music and the visual arts, what was largely missing was dance.
Though she knew nothing about the study at the time, Laura Devinney, a board member of the Southampton Cultural Center (SCC), had noticed the lack of dance too.
“I have a love of dance. I used to dance and used to teach dance,” she explains. “But as a cultural center board member, just within their programming, I noticed there was a void of dance and I wanted to fill the void.”
So Ms. Devinney set out to form a dance committee by reaching out to people in the community who were involved in the field. These were people who teach dance on the East End, were once dancers themselves, have a history in dance or simply love it.
“Dancefusion is our committee and we’re committed to working within SCC to provide dance performance and education to the community,” says Ms. Devinney. “We try to get performances and events that show a large diversity of dance.”
“It’s not just ballet or modern and not just big names,” she adds. “We really want to reach out to some of the experimental troupes. We also want to delve into not so well known troupes who are doing innovative things and give them an opportunity to expand their work.”
“We would love to have an artist in residence capability, but we’re not there yet,” says Ms. Devinney.
In its 2014 inaugural season, Dancefusion group hosted two events, including a fundraiser last May to get the initiative off the ground followed by a dance group performance in Agawam Park last fall as part of Southampton’s Septemberfest celebration.
Though it has been one step at a time, so to speak, this year, Dancefusion is ready to go with a full season of events. It all begins this Saturday when members of The Ailey School, the official school of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, come to SCC to offer a dance workshop followed by a contemporary dance performance for the public.
“This is a group of professional students in their final year of a three year certificate program at Alvin Ailey,” explains Freddie Moore, Rehearsal Director of the Ailey School’s Professional Division Group. “This year, four choreographers worked with the dancers. It’s a very diversified program with some modern dance, the flavor of jazz and contemporary ballet all mixed together. It really shows the versatility of the artist.”
The dancers will lead the workshop which is open for ages 9 and up, including adults, and Mr. Moore explains that regardless of experience, each participant will take home a bit of modern dance knowledge and hopefully, a passion to continue.
“With these types of workshops, we go in understanding some people may have training, but the majority do not,” explains Mr. Moore. “It will be a modern contemporary class. I begin with techniques that will include the Horton technique – our signature technique which gives the basic training, so everyone is able to do that.”
Named for its creator, dancer and choreographer Lester Horton, the fundamentals of the technique include flat backs, primitive squats, lateral stretches, leg swings, deep lunges, and T positions.
“It’s a modern dance form and it’s basically, for us, a codified technique which was created with seven dancers,” explains Mr. Moore. “It’s really designed to lengthen the body of the artist. Lester Horton was very much into the anatomy and structure of the body and natural forms versus ballet positions. The form is designed to work with the natural body.”
“It’s open Egyptian arms, parallel shapes and lines,” explains Mr. Moore. “Instead of ballet first position, it’s natural first, natural second. It becomes more accessible.”
And accessibility is what this program is all about. In modern dance, there is a certain amount of freedom for workshop participants which may not be possible in a more formalized dance style such as classical ballet. That in and of itself makes the workshop ideal for a range of abilities.
“In a setting like this, depending on the number of participants, there are those who have trained versus those that haven’t,” adds Mr. Moore. “Once I identify them, I can accommodate those who have training and give them something more advanced. Everyone feels like they get something. There’s a great sense of accomplishment.”
That sense of accomplishment is reinforced when the workshop participants stay to watch the public performance that follows where they see the professional Ailey dancers create some of the dance movements they learned just a few hours earlier.
“I love to be able to teach them movement,” adds Mr. Moore. “We also do a lecture demonstration series and can get them all moving. We bring them on stage to dance with us, perform with us and see how we fit in. We really want to connect.”
While the participants who sign up for the Alvin Ailey workshop with Dancefusion will have an opportunity to learn techniques from one of the best known modern dance troupes in the country, Mr. Moore notes that his company gets something from the exchange as well — the next generation of Ailey dancers.
“It’s happened many times where we’ve gone and given a young dancer the experience and then they join our summer intensives and special workshops,” he says. “The students become part of our student or professional division and go on to other things, either Ailey II or elsewhere.”
That educational component is key for Ms. Devinney, who is excited about the way in which Dancefusion combines student workshops with professional performances.
“It’s extremely inspirational and motivational. Young people teach the students to dance and then they get to see them perform,” she says. “It’s bridging that gap.”
The Modern Dance Workshop with artists from the Ailey School is from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, 2015 at the Southampton Cultural Center’s Levitas Center for the Arts (25 Pond Lane, Southampton). The workshop is for ages 9 to adult and is $30. At 6 p.m., the Ailey School dancers will offer a modern dance performance on the SCC stage. Tickets to the performance are $40 (free for workshop participants under age 18, $20 for adult workshop participants). Call (631) 283-4377 to reserve.
Upcoming Dancefusion events for summer 2015 include a flamenco workshop and performance on June 20 SCC, a free site specific dance festival in Agawam Park by Island Moving Co. on August 1 as part of Southampton’s 375th anniversary celebration, African drumming and dance and Milongo (a type of tango) in the park on September 26 and 27 as part of Septemberfest Southampton and finally, on November 7, a workshop and performance with dancers Sue Samuels and Jason Samuels Smith. Dancefusion is also offering five week classes in conjunction with Touch Dance Studios. The next session, swing dancing,, runs on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. from May 20 to June 17.