The world-renowned Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s Ailey II, including alumna and former Dance Dimensions member Taeler Cyrus ’04, conducted a master class in Combs Gymnasium March 9.
The touring company Ailey II showcases the African-American cultural experience with modern concert dance, a type of dance seen mostly at live theaters, as opposed to commercial dance seen in mainstream media. The group typically does evening performances, but two weeks ago, it visited schools in Southern California as part of an outreach program to expose students to modern concert dance.
The workshop started with a solo by Cyrus and an abstract company piece. The group then taught the students part of its famous routine called “Revelations.”
A long-time fan of Ailey II, Cara Adams ’10 of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, said that the opportunity to work with Ailey II was very valuable and appreciated.
“I learned how important stage presence is,” Adams said. “Each of them had a very professional air to his or her performance that really grabbed my attention.”
Dance Dimensions member Carter Goffigon ’10, who attended the class, said that she was very excited about the opportunity.
“I think first and foremost, it was such an incredible honor and learning experience to watch Ailey II,” she said. “The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is one of my favorite dance companies in the world.”
Goffigon said that she loves seeing modern dance performances.
“It is certainly a different experience than seeing a classical ballet performed but no less gratifying. It requires the audience to give themselves over emotionally, an experience that for me is almost spiritual,” she said.
Dance IV student Devon Manze ’12 said the lesson helped her appreciate the amount of practice she’d need to build her strength for modern techniques. In particular, Manze said that enjoyed the “Horton” technique, which incorporated modern and simple movements.
“We learned that in order to be a dancer, you have to be extremely strong,” Manze said. “The moves they did looked simple but were really hard when we tried them.”
Eighth grader Tess Levinson said that most of her experience has been with jazz and classical, and the modern Horton style offered a very different style.
“Modern is more of a connection with gravity,” Levinson said, explaining the challenge of holding a “flat back” while doing combination exercises of turns, extensions and laterals across the floor. “It was a really hard class. I was out of breath by the end of it.”
Cyrus, who headed the workshop, was hand-picked to join the Alvin Ailey troupe in 2008 after graduating as an honors student from the Ailey/Fordham B.F.A. program in dance. She is in her second season with Ailey II.
She said returning to Marlborough was a nice flashback.
“It’s fun to show the company around and tell them about my high school experience,” Cyrus said. “It’s kind of surreal.”
Many students expressed admiration for Cyrus.
“As a dancer she was absolutely breath taking! Her legs and lines were gorgeous, but every once in a while she would calmly smile and it was those moments that literally made me well up,” Goffigon said.