10 Minutes With Samantha Figgins

November 30, 2014

On her first season with Ailey, from life on tour to tackling new rep



Photo by Erin Baiano for
Dance Spirit.


Samantha Figgins recently made a big career leap. She left behind Complexions Contemporary Ballet—and set aside her pointe shoes—to become one of a handful of dancers at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater who did not train at its school. It reflects changes Robert Battle has made at the company, including the addition of fresh and unexpected repertoire alongside Ailey classics: This season the company will dance Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain Pas de Deux and Hofesh Shechter’s Uprising, plus a world premiere by Matthew Rushing.


Why did you leave Complexions?

I’ve been watching Ailey since I was a little kid. This is definitely a departure for me. Before, I wanted a more balletic route. But Ailey is expanding its repertoire in a way that seemed like it could include me. And though I was enjoying Complexions, there was not a lot of touring.

How did you get into the company?

Matthew Rushing and I did a film last year called Enemy Within. He said he thought I would be really good at Ailey and helped me get in touch with Robert Battle. After sending a reel, Robert made time to watch me in class for about 10 minutes. Then I had to wait a month until the open auditions were held—I was flying that day to St. Petersburg to participate in the Dance Open Festival. The whole day I was standing by my phone, on edge. When my plane landed, I got the e-mail. By the time I reached the hotel, I had the contract.


How has the transition been?

I had to learn the whole Ailey machine, how to work in a 30-plus group of people. In Complexions, there were only 15 of us. That meant you were always on. No covers. The Ailey way, it is easier to handle the workload, which I am thankful for since there is so much new rep for me to learn.


Has living on the road been difficult?

At Ailey we tour around 150 days a year. I just came off my first seven weeks and I was surprised that being away from home, family, cooking and baking was not as hard as I thought it would be. A lot of people cook in their rooms and make normal routines out of traveling.


Are you worried about setting your pointe shoes aside?

I take class here on pointe and will continue to keep that tool sharp, but right now my focus is on ensuring my success at Ailey. When I get more comfortable, I might be able to guest in the ballet world again. But my feet are happy to have the break from pointe shoes! The downside is I now have pains related to dancing barefoot. I have a huge foot split between my first and second metatarsals, and all these split toes. I didn’t know it would burn like this when you shower.

What about the shift in repertoire and style?

I did not come from the Ailey world of Horton. Dwight Rhoden, Desmond Richardson and Renee Robinson have offered me advice from their Ailey experiences and I have been doing some private Horton training with Matthew Rushing. I am feeling it in my arms and legs; I am definitely developing different muscles. It has been quite humbling. I am at the beginning of a huge growth spurt.