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Alvin Ailey coach local dancers

5 Nov 2015 - 16:15

On 17 September, a group of excited UCT School of Dance students welcomed members of the prestigious Alvin Ailey Dance Academy to their studios on Lower Campus. The visit formed part of a series of international dance Master Classes, initiated by lecturer and interim Head of Department, Lisa Wilson.

UCT School of Dance students are put through their paces at the Alvin Ailey Master Class series 

Founded in 1958 by Alvin Ailey, a famous African-American dance choreographer and activist, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre showcases the best of American modern dance tradition. The New York-based institution trains over 3,500 dancers annually and, through their Arts in Education programmes, aims to make dance training accessible to schools and communities across the world. This is the dance theatre’s first visit to the University of Cape Town (UCT). The purpose was to expose local students to trends in contemporary dance and, to provide advice on international careers and opportunities within the industry.

The connection between the two institutions was facilitated by the United States Consulate who is the main sponsors of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre tour to Cape Town. Visiting lecturers Glen Sims, Collin Heyward and Jacqueline Green led a jam-packed and high-energy class teaching UCT students the Horton technique, a dance technique developed by American Lester Horton, under whom Alvin Ailey trained. All three have extensive training in ballet, modern, African contemporary dance techniques. Hayward encouraged the students telling them: “Don’t give up on your dreams, when you are at your lowest low, the highest high is around the corner”.  Sims (who has been with the company for 19 years) was extremely impressed with UCT dance students saying that ‘he has taught many outreach classes and workshops and that it was rare that he experienced a group of dancers who were collectively sound in their technique’. 

UCT students received practical pointers in contemporary dance from  Jacqueline Green; Glen Sims and Collin Heyward of New York’s Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre pictured here with interim Head of UCT School of Dance, Lisa Wilson (second from right).

The value of the connection established with Alvin Ailey extends beyond the visit. The medium to long-term benefit for UCT students is the international exposure and, a benefit for the university is the new pool of talented black artists from which to draw for future residencies and guest teaching at UCT. “The visiting professionals not only taught a class, but each shared their personal journey to a professional career in the Company. In addition, our students got a chance to see them in live performance at Artscape. Their openness and professional wisdom provided our students with fresh inspiration and the motivation to pursue their own dance studies” says Wilson.

Feedback obtained from the students has been very positive. “The opportunity for our students to engage directly with a Company whose technique they study at UCT and whose works they study in western dance history courses made their learning come alive and, become much more meaningful. These were black dancers, with impeccable dance technique and a strong international reputation. All our staff and students could relate to them and we felt privileged to have them in our midst” said Wilson.

Lisa Wilson convenes the contemporary dance discipline at the UCT School of Dance combining practical training in contemporary dance classes with lectures in dance theory for the first to fourth-year cohorts of students. She also supervises students in the postgraduate (Honours level) programmes.

Article courtesy of Humanities News.