Ailey II Residency 2013, presented by Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, comes in to the community including performances Oct. 10-12 at The Folly Theater. Alvin Ailey saw Kansas City as a second home for his company almost 30 years ago. He laid down a mission and vision that continues today. The mission is “to make dance accessible to all people by presenting the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ailey II, teaching young people critical life skills through dance and modeling interracial and multicultural community partnerships.” The vision reflects Ailey’s personal vision to see a diverse community united by dance to inspire and change lives.
“The calendar includes the school programs, adult fitness classes, Ailey Trio and Setting the Stage, the wrap-up concert, Ailey Camp in the summer, and a partnership with the Upper Room that aids 3,000 kids at 18 sites,” says Executive Director Tyrone Aiken.
The Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey has a broad reach. First there is a 25-year collaboration with the Kansas City, Mo. Schools. The Kansas City, Kan. School District is a more recent collaboration as is the Paseo High School for the Performing Arts. “We provide support to the dance department,” he says.
Next year marks the KCFAA’s 30th year. Aiken and the team have begun working with Michael Kaiser, who currently serves as president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Kaiser began his career as the general manager of the Kansas City Ballet In 1985. Subsequent jobs have included executive directorships with the Royal Opera Company, American Ballet Theatre, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Foundation.
As an arts management consultant, Kaiser has advised such institutions as The Jewish Museum, the Market Theatre (Johannesburg), Detroit Symphony, Glimmerglass Opera, New York City Opera, and many others. Aiken hopes that Kaiser can help reignite and re-energize the organization. “We are beginning this process. We will look at how we will continue to develop talent and exposure through more classes.”
Education and Artistic Programs Director Michael Joy says the need is to be ever-evolving with all the programs. With the Ailey Camp, Joy knows students are different and he and the teachers are mindful. “We have to find the ways to reach them and excite them.” This past year’s camp ran for four weeks and students explored dance, creative writing and drumming. The Missouri camp had 80 campers and the Kansas camp had 70.
“The underlying goal is to help create and shape world citizens,” Aiken says. “For most students, camp can be their chance to help inspire their imaginations and dreams. So often, they don’t stray far from the neighborhoods they live in, but we are hoping to spark that interest to see the world. The arts we offer are valuable to show that the world is bigger and these classes can provide that path for discovery and investigation.”
The design of the camp is to give a different experience than school, Joy says. “The teachers and artists who come in to help also share what they do and model behavior. Kids see everything we do and if we want them to be better people, we have to take that chance to challenge students and give them opportunities to dance,” Joy says. The future could hold expanded opportunities in partnerships and places to dance. “We also hope that there may be better access to public transit. If the street car plan moves forward, we need to be on the route,” Aiken says.
As part of a developing community, the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey wants to be part of the conversation about the arts and the benefits, especially in arts education. “In third grade, I started playing clarinet and joined the orchestra in fourth grade. It taught me a lot about working together; art makes a different impact that can stretch experiences on for years,” Aiken says. “For me, everyone is an artist. Art is freedom to imagine, think and breathe. The other joy is the shared experience with others who join in the arts as a community. We can always be inspired by the ways people present themselves.”
He says the way people participate in culture and expression is critical. Alvin Ailey helps with this. “There is enrichment and a way to learn about the American experience through the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre,” Aiken explains. Ailey II is universally renowned for merging the spirit and energy of the country’s best young dance talent with the passion and creative vision of today’s most outstanding emerging choreographers. Founded in 1974, the company embodies Ailey’s pioneering mission to establish an extended cultural community that provides dance performances, training, and community programs for all people.
Ailey II Artistic Director Troy Powell leads the group. Aiken says the group may bring in Ailey’s own Revelations. Using African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs and holy blues, Revelations fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul. Aiken suspects other numbers will include pieces from minority choreographers mixing ballet, jazz and Afro-Caribbean dance with hip-hop.