Friday, January 25, 2013

Alvin Ailey via Claude Thompson

"Discuss a Choreographer who has had the most impact on you..."
The following is what I wrote about

Alvin Ailey
Alvin Ailey
Photo by Carl Van Vechten
Claude Thompson
Claude Thompson
Photo by  Carl Van Vechten
The more I explore dance history, the more difficult it is to choose only one choreographer responsible for having the most impact on me. However, it is also my exploration of dance history that has helped me to elect Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) as the one choreographer responsible for impacting my dance career and influencing me the most. I chose Alvin Ailey because the choreographers, dancers, and techniques which contributed to Alvin Ailey’s dance style and history are also what connect him to my mentor, Claude Thompson (1935-2007)-therefore contributing to my personal dance history.
When I was about fourteen years old, I saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for the first time. I immediately fell in love with the combination of athleticism and grace, of both the male and female dancers. I remember chiseled male bodies, in nothing more than what resembled loin cloths, jumping, turning, stopping, and balancing in such dramatic ways, women who were barefoot, strong, yet still feminine, and both the men and women equally strong, elegant and captivating, whether dancing with each other or apart-I was mesmerized. Up until that time I had been singularly focused on ballet and had never seen male and female dancers showcased in such a beautifully unified way. I wanted to dance like that, but had no idea how a ballet dancer would learn how to do such things.  About five years later, I had the opportunity to take a master class from a gentleman named Claude Thompson who had assistants demonstrating the exercises and choreography for the class. His assistants instantly reminded me of the dancers I saw with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. After taking Claude’s master class, completely unaware of Claude’s association/history with Alvin Ailey and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, I became determined to someday become one of Claude’s assistants.
During the years I was taking classes with Claude, he always made mention of “Alvin” when discussing his days of studying “Horton” and he often mentioned the names Dunham and Graham when we would work on contractions and hinges and while working on one of “Talley’s pieces.” It wasn’t until I was his assistant that I learned that “Alvin” was Alvin Ailey of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, “Dunham” and “Graham” were the highly regarded modern dance pioneers Katherine Dunham and Martha Graham, and “Talley” was Talley Beatty who happened to have been a former Graham student and is well known for his amazing solo choreographic piece, Mourner’s Bench.
Claude often told his dancers and assistants that in order to become a strong and versatile dancer, it was important to study as many different dance styles and techniques as possible. He was also insistent that his assistants take Horton and Dunham technique classes, Afro-Haitian classes, as well as keeping up with our ballet classes. Claude also told many stories and lent many of his assistants and dancers videos in order for us to become familiar with the works of Talley Beatty and Jack Cole. It wasn’t until years after Claude’s death and while I was taking Dance History classes that I became aware just how much influence all these dance styles, dancers, and choreographers contributed so much to both Claude’s and Alvin Ailey’s dance history. The more I learned about Graham, Dunham, Horton, the more I began to see similarities in movements and philosophies that have influenced Claude and Alvin’s dance vocabulary , for example, when I recently heard a quote by Judith Jameson, of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, “If you haven’t studied at least four techniques, you’ll never get trough one of Beatty’s Ballets.” Upon hearing Jameson’s quote, I couldn’t help but give a nod to Claude for all the encouragement he gave his students to take as many classes of varying styles and techniques, from as many teachers as possible in order to help up become strong-capable of doing one of “Beatty’s Ballets.” I too have become an advocate of dancers and athletes having an extensive knowledge of different physical disciplines that will promote keeping their strong, dynamic bodies lean, flexible, expressive, and less prone to injury.
Exploring the topic of which choreographer has had the most impact on me has been a wonderful opportunity to realize how all dancers are the sum of all their parts, as well as the sum of all the parts of the teachers and choreographers who have shared their history with us. When given the opportunity to study dance history, dancers have the chance to become aware that the world of dance is small and we are all connected thanks to this beautiful art of movement. Through this exploration, I have learned that my most influential mentor, Claude Thompson, not only studied with many of the same people Alvin Ailey did, including Lester Horton-for whose style and technique I have tremendous respect, and who has influenced the way I structure the overall full body conditioning class I provide for my dancer and athletic clients- he was also the first guest artist in Alvin Ailey’s 1958 premier concert at the 92nd Street Y in New York. I am thankful I have had the opportunity to have been re-inspired by both Dance History classes to learn more about my mentor‘s dance history, which in essence has created mine. 

Written for
Saint Mary's College of California's LEAP Program
LEAP PERFA 125 Challenge by Exam
I am happy to report that I earned an A for this essay, along with completing three other questions/essays for the exam!
Margaret Karl
Jan 22 (3 days ago)
to me
Hi Melissa,

Here are your PERFA-125 results -- Great job!

Dear Melissa,
I read your PERF 125 challenge exam and your grade is an "A." Well done as usual. I think your analysis of Thompson via Ailey was clear and respectful and your assessment of the pas de deux was thoughtful. Just a note that pas de deux is already plural so you don't need the "pas des deux" that you have used herein. I don't think anyone has ever recognized the couple in the second pas, so I thought I'd mention that!



Here is a video of Talley Beaty's
"Mourners Bench"


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