Founded in 1958 as a “Cultural Ambassador to the World,” Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform their trademark repertory at the Detroit Opera House, including the crowd favorite “Revelations”, from March 17-19. The renowned troupe honors both the American dance heritage and African American culture.
The company’s most popular work, “Revelations,” offers a vision of the historical African American experience from a church-inspired angle, set to spirituals, gospel, and blues music, and influenced by the choreographer’s own Christian upbringing.
The Michigan Chronicle spoke to Jacquelin Harris, one of the principal dancers at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, on her artistic journey and the impact of the company’s Black-centered narratives.
“Growing up in North Carolina, I had a lot of great influences and a lot of great inspirations and role models in my life, specifically African American women,” said Harris. “But as far as dance training went, I didn’t really have that representation for me. When I joined the company, I have since worked with amazing artists, including the Ailey women, and heard the stories and legacies of this company as a great reverence and respect for the possibilities of the power of what we can do and hold all over the world.”
A North Carolina native, Harris began dancing at the age of two after being inspired watching her sisters perform. She wanted to follow in the footsteps of her sisters, while determined to pave her own path.
Under the guidance of Lori Long, Harris started her ballet instruction at Dance Productions Studios. Harris was a Presidential Scholar in the Arts candidate and the recipient of a platinum ARTS award from the National Foundation for the Promotion of the Arts. She completed the Ailey/Fordham BA Program in Dance with distinction. Harris was selected by Dance Magazine as one of the “25 to Watch” in 2016.
The Princess Grace Foundation-USA awarded her a ballet scholarship in 2017. She participated in Merce Cunningham’s Night of 100 Solos: A Centenary Event in 2019, which earned a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award, along with 75 other dancers from around the globe. In her performance of Twyla Now in 2021, Harris collaborated with Twyla Tharp and performers from the American Ballet Company and New York City Ballet. In 2014, Harris joined the Company and was a member of Ailey II.
Harris said she is looking forward to performing in Detroit, as she has roots in the city. Her paternal family is from Detroit and her immediate family lived here for a few years.
“One of my favorite parts of the company is the outreach that we have the opportunity to do,” said Harris. “We have demonstrations where we get up close and personal with the students in the schools and really talk to them one on one. Even the shy and reserved kids, as soon as we get them to start dancing and we bring them on stage, they come alive and that’s the power of art and the power of dance.”
Last week, Ailey II, the second/junior company, came to the city to hold workshops with hundreds of students at 13 Detroit schools, including the Detroit School of Arts (DSA). The program aims at expanding the link that company founder Alvin Ailey built between the classroom and the theater to continue advancing each new group of artists and Black American dance’s significance.
On the morning of opening day, March 17, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will host a performance for Detroit students at the Detroit Opera House.
“Whether it’s their first time experiencing ‘Revelations’ or our other works,” said Harris. “To hear their voices, their applause and laughter, is always so powerful. It just reminds you how important this work is and why it’s been around for six decades. To any young student who is aspiring to be anything, whether an artist or teacher or president, I want them to know to dive into it with your whole heart and remember why you love it.
As a dancer, it’s not an easy field and demanding. Hard on the body and can be competitive, but there’s also so much grace and beauty that can come from it and it’s not just for yourself but how you can influence other people. When it’s something that you love and are passionate about, the reward is always greater than the sacrifice.”
To purchase tickets for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s run at the Detroit Opera House (March 17-19), visit detroitopera.org