The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater does not need too much of an introduction. The man and his choreographic works are internationally celebrated, having performed in 71 countries abroad.
The company is known for the powerful expressions of dance and choreography as it relates to the American experience, particularly through the lens of African Americans. Every dance number is vibrant in detailed artistic expression.
As the company embark on their West Coast tour through the month of April with a stop at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts (April 7 through April 10, 2016), that legacy will be represented by the rich plethora of dancers carrying on the Ailey tradition.
One of those dancers is already being regarded as one of the best up and coming stars in this field. Danica Paulos, the pride of Huntington Beach, California, is recognized as a premier dance whiz. Dance Magazine has lauded Paulos as one its “25 to Watch.” Trained to perform at the Orange County Dance Center and the Professional Performing Arts School in New York, among others, Paulos joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2014.
Paulos recently took time out of her busy schedule to answer questions about being part of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater experience.
Dennis J. Freeman: What led you to become a dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater?
Danica Paulos:“In high school, I had an interest in studying modern and contemporary dance in New York City. I auditioned for the Ailey School during the summer before senior year and I fell in love with the class. It was a ballet and a Horton-based modern audition, which were two subjects of dance that felt very natural and fun for me. I decided to join the school because I really looked up to the company members. However, I had no belief that I would ever make it to their level of professionalism. I worked very hard in the school and auditioned for Ailey II and got the job. It was in that moment that I realized that maybe I had a shot in making it to the first company.”
Dennis J. Freeman: Why did you decide to dance with this particular dance troupe?
Danica Paulos: “We tour more than any other American modern dance company and it has opened my eyes to experiences and cultures that I never thought I would live in. This company gives back to the community by doing mini performances for students and giving dance classes to kids everywhere we go, which is the absolute best part for me.”
Dennis J. Freeman: There are a lot of people who would give everything to be part of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. What has the experience done for you?
Danica Paulos: “I am one of those people who would give everything to be here. I was hired on a temporary contract to replace an injured dancer for four short months during an international tour. I was to return to Ailey II after this particular tour, so every single moment felt like it could be my last. I gave everything in every rehearsal, performance, and class because I did not know how long the experience would be for me. I did not want to take one moment for granted. Being here was not handed to me on a silver platter, I truly felt like I had to prove my worth in order to be among these dancers.”
Dennis J. Freeman: What particular dance number is your favorite to perform? Why?
Danica Paulos: “No Longer Silent” by (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) Artistic Director Robert Battle is one of my favorite ballets to perform right now. It is organized chaos and if you are not fully aware and present on stage, the whole dance can lose its power. Performing it gives the company a sense of community that reads strongly from the audience. By the end of the dance we are all exhausted, sweaty and holding on by a thread; but we help each other make it to the end which is a really beautiful experience.”
Dennis J. Freeman: Who inspires you-both as a performer and as a person?
Danica Paulos: “Belen Pereya, another dancer from the company, is someone who comes to mind. She has such a beautiful presence on and off stage that I observe and try to emulate. She is one of those people who gives nothing but love and brings joy and light when she walks into a room. She can do any style of dance and excels in our repertoire. I think she is an honest and open-hearted dancer, which are innate qualities that are necessary to be an artist.”
Dennis J. Freeman: What can this generation learn from the works of Alvin Ailey?
Danica Paulos: “Mr. Ailey said, ‘I want to help show my people how beautiful they are. I want to hold up the mirror to my audience that says this is the way people can be, this is how open people can be.’ I think that the work of Mr. Ailey reminds us that we are all human beings and we all have real human experiences. He was not afraid to show his life in a literal sense. He put his life and experiences on stage and many people to this day can still relate to his work. This simple fact is a testament to how Mr. Ailey was a visionary in his time. He showed us that it’s okay to be who we are and that knowledge is very liberating.”
Dennis J. Freeman: How does it feel to be coming back home and performing in front of people you know?
Danica Paulos: “I have been looking forward to this homecoming since I joined the company and now that it is finally here, it is surreal. It feels as if I am literally bringing my whole New York life to my old life in California, meshing them both together and hoping that they mix well. Sometimes I get nervous thinking about it, as if there’s some type of pressure to show everyone how much I’ve grown since I moved away. But then I remember that there is nothing but love and support in the audience. As we say in the company, ‘Nothing to prove, everything to share.’”
Dennis J. Freeman: As a dancer, what is it like to perform in front of thousands of people every year?
Danica Paulos: “For me, it is a dream come true to be given the opportunity to do what I love. I feel most comfortable on stage. Performing is a thrill for me, but it can also be very exhausting. When you are dancing for an audience, you give them part of your most vulnerable self so doing that over and over can be emptying. You have to find ways to refill and recharge yourself so you can continue to inspire new audiences every night.”
Dennis J. Freeman: Why is “Revelations” such a moving and important part of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater depository?
Danica Paulos: It is moving because it is so authentic and real. Mr. Ailey choreographed
“Revelations” based on his and his dancers’ real life experiences. The steps are the same as when it was first made, so the current dancers have a standard which we must uphold. We have the duty to tap into the emotions that his ballets portray, which means that each dancer must have a strong sense of self to continually expose their emotions to the audience.”
Dennis J. Freeman: How difficult is it to move up to senior dance status within the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater? What does it mean to you to have achieve this feat?
Danica Paulos: “For me, it is not about seniority. I feel that every dancer has something to share and learn. I try to learn and grow from each and every artist.”
Photo Source: First article photo by Andrew Eccles for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater