Won the lottery? Odds are that atop your list of to-dos is to travel the globe and see the world's most glamorous and exotic locales. The members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater do just that for a good part of the year, in addition to performing a job they love — to dance and enthrall audiences as they and their predecessors have for nearly five decades. This fall the company embarked on a two-and-a-half month tour to the United Kingdom, France, and China prior to its annual December New York City Center season.
For Matthew Rushing, a 15-year company veteran, these trips have been his first glimpses of the world abroad. "The most vivid memories are during my first European tour with the company, in 1992," he says. "We went to Italy, Israel, Egypt, Germany, and Paris. I thought I was in heaven. I'd never traveled overseas prior to that tour, so having the exposure to different cultures, foods, sights, and at the same time, to have the opportunity to do what I love, was a bit overwhelming — in a good way, of course." Rushing has come to view touring as a respite from the mounting demands of his daily life in New York. "It's the only time I get rest. Whenever we go on tour, there's only the theatre and the hotel and whatever sightseeing you want to do. So most responsibilities are set aside."
Other company members agree that the cultural opportunities are priceless. "I love when I get to be in a city and there's a famous work of art there, and I can see it live — that's a great part of it," says Clifton Brown, who is now in his ninth Ailey season. Renee Robinson, who is entering her 26th year with the company, relishes the chance to learn about other cultures. "Waking up and going to the restaurants, the museums, reading the newspaper ... just being around the people," she exclaims. She is looking forward to the company's fall itinerary, which includes Lyon, France. "It's always a treat to go to Lyon. The food is out of this world. I plan to go on a diet the week before we go. It's one of the places where I don't like to deprive myself of the experience of the food. Certain things are just important as you travel!"
Relative newcomer Alicia Graf was bowled over by the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. "That was amazing," she says, "because it was my first performance with Ailey, number one … so it was my first time performing Revelations, which in itself is a spectacular feeling — to have that as the first show in such a beautiful, historical theatre was one of my most memorable moments with Ailey."
The company feels appreciated no matter what country they're in. "You feel that it's almost part of the exchange," Rushing says. "As an audience member, you know you can expect us to give our all, and as dancers, we know we're going to have a good reception at the end of the performance." The audiences may show their enthusiasm in different ways, however. "It all depends on where you go," notes Brown. "In my first year, we went on a tour of Europe — mostly a few cities in Germany. The audiences were great, very loud. After that we went to Tokyo, and they weren't nearly as loud. But afterward, we'd meet people at the stage door who would say, 'We loved your performance so much!' I realized that culturally it's different, the way the audiences express themselves. They love the experience just as much — it just sounds different."
On the flip side, being away from home for months has its own demands. The dancers travel with pictures of loved ones on their laptops and phones. Early in his Ailey years, Rushing traveled with his stuffed dog, Chewy, sticking out of his backpack, which evoked thoughts of his family. Robinson has a more unorthodox keepsake. "There's an issue of Dance Magazine with Ron Brown, who choreographed Grace, on the cover," she says. "I carry that magazine — the entire issue — in my theatre case. Every stop we go to, I put it on my dressing table. And I will be honest — I'm not sure why. But I had such a great experience with him, learning Grace …. I've enjoyed working with other choreographers but, for example, I have the opportunity to see Ms. Jamison (Judith Jamison, Artistic Director and a choreographer at AAADT) every day."
Constance Stamatiou, who joined Ailey this year after performing and touring with Ailey II, can hardly wait to begin. "I haven't been out of the country except for a few places with Ailey II," she declares. "I went to Greece when I was too young to remember, so I'm definitely excited to travel the world and meet new people and cultures."
Lottery winners are free to follow in her footsteps, or — barring that — to take in an Ailey show at New York City Center this winter.
To view a complete tour itinerary for AAADT, go to: www.alvinailey.org.
Susan Yung is a New York _based freelance writer specializing in dance and art.