March 13-24 marks the New York debut of Ailey II, the second company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The newly appointed artistic director, Troy Powell, will lead the two programs, “All New” and “Returning Favorites.” Powell brings varied works together in “All New”–Malcolm Low’s “One Forgotten Moment,” Benoit Swan-Pouffer’s “Rusty,” Amy Hall Garner’s “Virtues” and Jessica Lang’s “Splendid Isolation II” (“The Calling”). For “Returning Favorites,” there is Ailey’s “Quintet,” Judith Jamison’s “Divining” and Powell’s “The External Knot.”
Powell shared some thoughts about his New York debut in a telephone conversation with the AmNews.
Amsterdam News: Are you nervous about your New York debut?
Troy Powell: A little, but a good nervous. I’m really looking forward to the season.
You were appointed in July 2012, so your actual debut was outside of New York in September 2012, correct?
Yes, we were presented by Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell of the Dance Department at Towson University. She is a former Ailey company member and one of my best friends. I felt good because it was almost like we had been doing this exchange for years because of our relationship.
AmNews: Did you have [rehearsal director] Alia Kache on board at that point?
I did. She started with us on the previous tour in Europe to get her feet wet. It was me, Sylvia [Waters] and Alia.
AmNews: Why did you choose Alia?
I interviewed several people to get a feel of what they were up to, if they fit this job description, and asked how they saw themselves in this position. Alia has grace, poise and she is intelligent, and at that time, she had had a professional career as a performer and choreographer and ran a company. She was the right fit; I was really confident with her.
AmNews: Have there been any surprises since you’ve been in this new position?
I had been the associate director for almost 12 years and had seen a lot of surprises, which is normal. It’s a young company … and I’m working with dancers who are talented and passionate, but they are still learning about themselves. When I was assisting Sylvia, I wasn’t as hands-on with that aspect. They looked up to her; she definitely had the ability to handle the dancer’s situations. Now that I am hands-on, I’m beginning to learn how to deal with their situations. It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge. They are all very polite, and as humans, we all have our thing.
AmNews: Are you saying you have another title–therapist? Father?
I really do feel that. I was the guy in the wing, the guy that would stand back and watch. I never really said much as a dancer, choreographer or even as associate artistic director. I was literally Sylvia’s right arm, but if dancers asked for advice, I would give it to them. Now I find that not only am I teaching them, I’m learning. It’s the best feeling.
AmNews: Tell me about your choice of choreographers.
I chose a very diverse group of choreographers because I wanted the dancers to have a different point of view. Malcolm [Lowe] embodied the choreographer that was experimental. I saw his work in the “New Direction’s Choreographer’s Lab” created by Robert Battle, and I enjoyed it. I said to him, “Wow, that was great. I’m interested in you doing something of this nature on Ailey II.” But when he saw the dancers he said, “That piece was for students and these are not students.” That says something about them and the piece. They adapted to his way of moving quickly.
AmNews: Benoit Swan-Pouffer is also someone whom you danced with at Ailey.
Sylvia and I had been talking about this for years, but back then I wasn’t the one making the top notch decisions (laughs). I wanted to bring in someone more established, someone who had a company. We had dinner together and I said, “I want that type of work on Ailey II; I want someone to push them.” He came in and went on fast-forward. He challenged the dancers and again I said, “Wow, who are these people?”
AmNews: And Amy Hall Garner?
I went out on a limb with her. What I really liked about Amy was her work as rehearsal assistant to Darrell Moultrie and her connection with the dancers. She can truly talk to them about how to present themselves as men and women, artists, young professionals, someone who is bigger than you are. Her piece is very energetic and its jazzy style brought their individual personalities out.
This year, when people say, “What did you gain from these three choreographers?,” I think it was something that I’d always wanted, something that Sylvia has always encouraged, and I’m sure Mr. Ailey also–that’s how to be an individual. And they have all done that.
AmNews: There are older works in the second program.
Yes! [Mr. Ailey’s] work is so important. I wanted to bring his work back because a lot of people were missing that. Also, Ms. Jamison’s “Diving” was choreographed way before some of the dancers were born, and it was one of her first pieces. A lot of the dancers had seen [“External Knot”] and wanted to do it, and I also wanted a piece of mine on the program. “External Knot” is sort of a story about my journey as a person. It’s a work that I feel close to, and I think [it] is one of my best.
AmNews: Are there new members?
There are seven new dancers, plus my stage manager, technical lighting director and rehearsal director. Everything was new! (laughs)
AmNews: Is that good?
I think it was good. I wanted to start out fresh.
AmNews: Are you having a good time?
One of the things that I said to myself over and over was “Troy, you have to have fun,” so I made an executive decision to have fun.
For more information, visit www.alvinailey.org/AileyII or call 866-811-4111.