Audiences come to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for many things—its diverse repertory, its celebration of and reflections on various aspects of black culture and its vibrant performers.
And through the years, the Ailey company has become especially known for its tradition of showcasing the performances of strong, dynamic women. The list includes some of the most distinctive dancers in the dance world—Carmen de Lavallade (who was a principal guest performer though not a regular company member), Sylvia Waters, Denise Jefferson, Sarita Allen, April Berry, Dwana Smallwood, Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, and Renee Robinson. Of course there’s also the company’s most famous dancer—Judith Jamison, the statuesque star who succeeded Ailey as artistic director of the company.
Today’s Ailey company boasts another generation of standout women. Two of them—Hope Boykin and Linda Celeste Sims—are to be honored during the company’s New York season which is now running through January 4 at New York’s City Center Theater.
In addition to the special “Celebrating the Women of Ailey” program on December 16, this season will also see the premiere of Matthew Rushing’s “Odetta,” celebrating the life and spirit of the famed folk singer and company premieres of the pas de deux from “After the Rain,” by Christopher Wheeldon; “Suspended Women,” by Jacqulyn Buglisi; and Hofesh Shechter’s “Uprising.”
Also scheduled are company classics like “Revelations” along with revivals of favorites like Ulysses Dove’s “Bad Blood,” and “Polish Pieces” by Hans van Manen.
Boykin and Sims said being in the spotlight of the upcoming “Celebrating the Women of Ailey” program has given them a moment to reflect on their careers and their place in the Ailey legacy.
“I feel very privileged to be associated with such great women that made a mark in this company,” said Sims, who was recognized by the dance community with a Bessie Award for her performances over the years. “I believe that hard work does pay and I’m always looking to push boundaries.”
Boykin admitted she too had never thought of herself that way, noting that between her muscular body type and very close cropped hairdo, she was atypical in many ways.
“I’ll be very honest. I think that in a very narrow way, on a very small scale, I would say that I’m not like anyone else. To a newer audience I’m distinctive,” Boykin said. “But I’m still a woman who loves to dance and loves what it means to be in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. There’s definitely a pride I take from being a member of this company” … “I might not necessarily look like everyone else, but that’s okay.”
In addition to the special program celebrating the women of Ailey, both Sims and Boykin will be featured in other special roles in the new repertory for this season. Sims, will be featured in “After the Rain” with her husband, Glenn Allen Sims. Boykin will be dancing the lead in Rushing’s “Odetta.” Both noted that they still find plenty of motivation to push forward, especially when dancing roles like these along with other pieces in the Ailey repertory.
“Every performance is a new performance. We have a new audience. I’m standing next to someone different and that creates a new experience,” Boykin said. “You can’t phone it in. Each relationship is very different. You have different dynamics with different people onstage” …“That’s what makes being in a repertory company so incredible. It’s fresh all the time.”
Added Sims, “What motivates me and pushes me is my love for dance. If you don’t’ love what you do then stop doing it. Dance, music motivates me, because it’s like in my blood. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
—Karyn D. Collins