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A Triumphant South African Return for Alvin Ailey

By Ruchel Louis Coetzee
Posted On Oct 30, 2015
A Triumphant South African Return for Alvin Ailey

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater made a historic 2015 trip to South Africa, and left audiences dancing in the aisles.

Ancestral roots were on the minds of many Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performers, as they made an historic trip to South Africa this fall. Such a trip had been a personal dream of Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison, since Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990, and finally became possible through a generous donation from J.P. Morgan Bank. Not only did the dance troupe leave audiences overcome with emotion and dancing in the aisles, they touched the hearts of young people via inspirational lectures and demonstrations in townships across the country. Here, we learn of great highlights, from the mouths of dancers Glenn Allen Sims, Daniel Harder, and Jacqueline Green.

NEW YOU:  What was the main takeaway from the tour?

GLENN ALLEN SIMS: This tour was filled with so much joy, especially during the outreach. The young dancers were so generous with their love of movement, and they were extremely excited to meet Ailey dancers in person. The company hasn’t performed in South Africa in 17 years, so this residency provided some with the first chance to see us up close and personal.

NY: Africa is so well known its culture of dance. How different is dancing there from dancing in US?

GLENN ALLEN SIMS: The dancers in South Africa danced from their souls… each and every one! They were brave and unafraid to express themselves. That spirit brought me to tears. Dance is a huge part of the African culture, and a way of communication for some.

NY: It was so nice to see the children dancing. What was the most heartfelt memory of that occasion?

DANIEL HARDER: The South Africa tour was truly a life changing experience for me, and I think the outreach was the most fulfilling part of the residency. We’re very lucky to have the opportunity to share our love of dance with people all over the world, and interacting with the young people of South Africa was even more gratifying than I’d imagined. The pure light, love, and joy that each group of kids shared with us was overwhelming – all through the gift of dance.

NY:   What did the South African dancers teach the American dancers?

GAS: The South African dancers shared their astonishing generosity with us. They taught me to be generous and humble on a daily basis.

NY: And then of course there are the animals, and some of you even posed in front of an elephant and a leopard. What  was the takeaway from that experience in the bush?

JACQUELINE GREEN: I am not a very adventurous person, but I figured if I can dance in front of thousands of people, I can pose near an animal – even one that I’m not accustomed to seeing up-close in its natural environment. After a while it seemed natural to be so close to them. I was in awe of their beauty, so it felt like they were in the spotlight and we were just there for atmosphere.

NY: How would you describe the people of South Africa today and their reception of the tour this time around?

GLENN ALLEN SIMS: The spirit of South Africa definitely feels lighter than it was 17 years ago [during Ailey’s performances in post-apartheid South Africa, following the lifting of the international boycott, in which Sims participated]. The people were brilliant throughout our performances. Times have changed, and that change can be seen in the people of South Africa. The love they showed us at the performances and out in the outreach will be a gem that I will carry in my heart until the next visit.

Don’t miss their upcoming season when Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to the New York City Center stage from December 2, 2015 – January 3, 2016 for their 45th consecutive year.

All photos were taken by renowned photographer Andrew Eccles who accompanied the  Alvin Ailey dance troupe to South Africa.