More than just a dance troupe

ALVIN AILEY is more than just a dance group, it’s a part of American history while both documenting and celebrating it at the same time. Everybody in and around this company knows this and it shows. They brim with pride as they walk through the hotel foyer, everyone smiles at each other and smiles harder when they talk about what they do. If there are cracks in the crew, they keep them well concealed. Everyone loves what they do.

The company was founded in 1958 after a performance by a group of young black dancers led by Alvin Ailey at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association. Almost half a century later, the group has played to over 19 million people in 68 different countries.

Alvin Ailey the man is not just a symbol of ambition and creativity – he also represents a slice of American society whose ethnic identity and what it has contributed to American society is often taken for granted. Through his dances, Ailey managed to capture and represent his own ethnicity by telling stories sourced from his own experiences growing up in Texas.

At the 28, Jeffrey Gerodias is a veritable veteran of ‘The Ailey’, having been with the company for eight years. He’s had a mythical rise to the top, inheriting his love of dance from his parents. he started out as a violin student in a music school and then, after taking dance as an elective over physical education, he strutted his way into Ailey’s top group.

“I had no idea that someone could dance professionally or that you could make money dancing.

“Dance for me is my way of expressing myself.”
‘Revelations’ is the showcase piece of the group’s repertoire. Choreographed by Ailey himself and first performed in 1960. Performed to the sounds of vamped-up Negro spiritual songs, it is a story drawn directly from Ailey’s world – the love, the passion, the torment and the Baptist spirituality.

The team spend eight months out of the year on the road, travelling the world with a handful of dances. In the remaining four months the crew is in New York, rehearsing and preparing for their next tour. Gerodias is performing in three of the four dances in the performances on the island, but though I was introduced to him as a lead dancer and he performs a magnificent solo in the course of the evening, he insists that everyone in the team is a lead.

The company doesn’t restrict its prowess to the stage. The group encompasses a dance school for all ages, education programmes for the under-privileged and summer programmes for dance majors.

Gerodias has travelled to South Africa twice as part of the group’s residency programme. “It was amazing,” he said.

“We were divided into groups and we went into the townships and did a lecture demonstration and exchange with the other students. We learned just as much as we taught.

“The kids there were so enthusiastic and so eager to learn. It made me stop and think about how privileged I am and about what I have.”