Memories of getting "green penned" in Köln, "3R" time

August 16, 2011

Week 7:
Returning to Köln, Germany
, brought back some of my fondest memories as a dancer with Ailey. I say this because Köln was the first tour stop with the company when I joined in 1997. Seeing landmarks like the Dom Cathedral and the walking bridge across the Rhine reminded me how I felt about seeing this European city for the first time. I was so excited to travel the world and be a member of the Company at the tender age of 21. It seems like yesterday.

In 1997, nine dancers left the Company and nine new dancers replaced them, with me being part of the new batch. We learned well over six ballets in the course of three weeks, and we were then flown across the Atlantic to meet the company, which had just come from a tour stop in Africa. If my memory serves me correctly, I was “green penned”—when your name is handwritten into the casting on the callboard with a green pen—to dance Shelter, by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, in Köln during my first week on tour. I was so nervous because we’d just learned this work about two weeks before, and, prior to joining Ailey I wasn’t trained extensively in African techniques, one of the main influences in this work’s movement vocabulary. However, I’m capable of picking steps up by looking at the shape and form of a dance: basically, mimicking.

The theater, Kolner Philharmonie, hadn’t changed either. The blue banquettes, the stage, and the women who worked at the canteen are all the same. Actually, the canteen ladies remembered me after all these years. And then it struck me that this is the city where Linda and I started to officially date. Looking back, we were just kids. We’ve grown up together on and off stage.

This week will be a testament to the dancers. We have eight performances during our two weeks in Köln. In some respects it’s like a mini City Center season. Seeing that this is our seventh week on tour, the body becomes fatigued. I find it harder to wake up for breakfast. And we still have rehearsals during the day before the show. Associate artistic director Masazumi Chaya has been restaging Mr. Ailey’s Streams while we’ve been on the road. So we’re not only focusing on the pieces that we’ll be performing in Köln, but works that will be performed during our New York City Center season in December.


Week 8:
As we roll into Monday, I think, Finally a day off! We’ll be having some much needed “3R” time-resting, relating, and relaxing. Linda and I planned to use this day to rejuvenate the body and spirit. No schedule, just dinner and then some movies.

It’s very important to take a respite as often as possible. I admire many of my colleagues for their work ethic and for diligently caring for our God-given instruments—our bodies. We continually push ourselves to the limit. We’re not just artists/dancers. We are athletes.

It’s funny to me because many audience members probably think that we’re just naturally built the way that we are. I don’t think they have an awareness of the countless hours that we put into our product before revealing it to them onstage. In addition to rehearsals, there are physical therapy, weight training, Pilates, yoga, swimming, cardio, and even P90X! We dancers are regularly trying to uphold the Ailey aesthetic.