Alvin Ailey theater celebrates 60 years and coming to Mesa

Taylor O’Connor >> The Entertainer!

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Clifton Brown knew he wanted to be a professional dancer since he was a 4-year-old in Goodyear.

He trained at Take 5 Dance Academy in Avondale, but his real a-ha moment came at the Goodyear Library, where he discovered an Ailey VHS.

“I had never seen concert dance before,” says Brown, who attended South Mountain High School as a freshman, and finished at New School for the Arts and Academics in Tempe. “I had been on the commercial side growing up. I always thought dancing professionally would be in music videos or on MTV.”

But he connected to it. At 19, he moved to New York to continue with the BFA program Ailey has with Fordham University. After a year of school, Brown auditioned for the company, still not entirely sure if dance was the career for him.

“Everyone has those forks-in-the-road moments in their life and for me, it was deciding between continuing school and studying something else, or dancing professionally,” Brown says. “Going to the audition and getting the job solidified which road to go down.”

Now, Brown is performing the pieces he saw on that VHS tape with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, who hits the Mesa Arts Center’s stage Friday, March 29, and Saturday, March 30.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and the tour will feature two pieces. The first is a love letter to Alvin by Ronald K. Brown and the other is a tribute to company’s six decades.

Along with several other traditional Ailey pieces, guests can see “Juba,” the first full piece choreographed by Artistic Director Robert Battle. Brown says the piece is an abstract representation of the African-American folk dance from the Caribbean during times of slavery.

Brown spoke highly of Jamar Roberts, a fellow dancer who choreographed two pieces for the show, “Gêmeos” and “Members Don’t Get Weary,” both debuting in 2016.

“Gêmeos” demonstrates Roberts’ relationship with his brother, an athlete. “Members Don’t Get Weary” is influenced by the blues, specifically the historic and present take on the style, and shows the current social landscape of America.

Another piece Brown highlighted was “Stack Up” by Talley Beatty, a high-energy performance with music from disco groups like Earth, Wind & Fire.

“It’s jazz-dance influenced, upbeat rhythms, and shows all of the layers of the people who live in a city. There are lower-class people living in the streets and representation of the rich upper class and the interactions between them and shows the different walks of life.”

The company will perform a well-known Ailey piece “Revelations.” It is “a cultural representation of African-American people that is timeless.” Brown says this is a crowd-pleaser, and the audience’s energy builds along with the story.

He calls the performance “inclusive,” as the concepts of the company’s dances welcome all types of people to portray their own experiences.

“Dance is for the people and we should always bring it back to them,” he says.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main Street, Mesa, 480.641.6500, mesaartscenter.com, 8 p.m. Friday, March 29, and Saturday, March 30, $41-$65.

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