Why This Ailey Dancer Dreams of Dancing with Ellen DeGeneres
Jamar Roberts has long been one of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's most thrilling performers, bringing his sinuous power to whatever the company's wide-ranging repertory throws at him. Last season, Roberts' own movement became a part of that repertory: His blues-inspired Members Don't Get Weary, set to the music of John Coltrane, received rave reviews, and returns this week as part of the company's 60th Anniversary season at New York City Center.
We caught up with Roberts for our "Spotlight" series:
What do you think is the most common misconception about dancers?
That all dancers are flexible/acrobatic and love to be in the spotlight. I'm more reserved and have had to cultivate an affinity for being in front of the camera.
What other career would you like to try?
Graphic novelist or animator. I also enjoy drawing and fashion, and designed the costumes for Members Don't Get Weary.
Do you have a pre-performance ritual?
Listening to music, especially jazz, helps center me, as do yoga exercises.
What was the last dance performance you saw?
A Works & Process performance at the Guggenheim Museum featuring English National Ballet in Akram Khan's Giselle.
Where can you be found two hours after a performance ends?
What's the most-played song on your phone?
"See You Again" (feat. Kali Uchis) by Tyler The Creator. Music is a must for the daily subway ride to and from Brooklyn.
Who is the person you most want to dance with—living or dead?
Ellen DeGeneres. It was so much fun when she came to The Ailey Studios in 2007 for a segment with us. Another person is singer Emily King. I went to her see her in concert recently and it was amazing!
What's your favorite book?
Anything by Octavia Butler. Specifically, Kindred. Right now, I'm reading an autobiography of Charles Mingus, Beneath the Underdog.
What's the first item on your bucket list?
I don't have a bucket list.
Where did you last vacation?
I've never taken a vacation, but I have seen the world touring with Ailey. When I have time off, I return to Miami to teach and choreograph at the school where I studied growing up.
What's your go-to cross-training routine?
Yoga is a daily necessity for mind, body and spirit.
What's the worst advice you've ever received?
My mentors always gave me great advice. But the worst advice I ever received was that I should be a model, which is something I would not enjoy.
If you could relive one performance, what would it be?
Performing the solo In/Side by Robert Battle in my hometown of Miami, Florida. It was an overwhelming experience. I went on an unexpected ride, the audience reaction was astounding and I was uncharacteristically in tears during bows.
There's a rare moment in Broadway's Hadestown where the audience is able to breathe a sigh of relief. The smash-hit success is not well-known for being light-hearted or easy-going; Hadestown is a show full of workers and walls and, well, the second act largely takes place in a slightly modernized version of hell.
But deep into the second act, the show reaches a brief homeostasis of peace, one of those bright, shining moments that allows the audience to think "maybe it will turn out this time," as the character Hermes keeps suggesting.
After songs and songs of conflict and resentment, Hades, the king of the underground, and his wife, the goddess Persephone, rekindle their love. And, unexpectedly, they dance. It's one of the most compelling moments in the show.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
There's always been something larger than life about choreographer Mark Morris. Of course, there are the more than 150 works he's made and that incisive musicality that makes dance critics drool. But there's also his idiosyncratic, no-apologies-offered personality, and his biting, no-holds-barred wit. And, well, his plan to keep debuting new dances even after he's dead.
So it should come as little surprise that his latest distinction is also a bit larger than life: The New York Landmarks Conservancy is adding Morris to its list of "Living Landmarks."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.