Ailey II: Emily Lanotti

Senior dance major Emily Lanotti dances in a master class led by members of Ailey II. 

With a floor bathed in magenta velvet light, silent feet flew across the stage earlier this week at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts. Critically acclaimed New York-based dance company, Ailey II, visited and performed at Forbes on Monday and Tuesday. Though a secondary group under the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation’s umbrella, they’re “second to none,” as labeled by Dance Magazine. 

On Monday, Ailey II performed three pieces: “The External Knot,” “Cuore Sott’Olio” and “Virtues;” while on Tuesday they switched the latter for the historical and well-known classical piece, “Revelations.” They brought a multitude of music genres and varying choreographers’ work, coupling this with the playful, yet powerful technique and soul of their dancing. Each night concluded with a long standing ovation while exclamations of praise and admiration echoed around the theater. 

Alvin Ailey began his company in 1959.

“He studied with a very important figure, Lestor Horton, originally in the early ’40s and ’50s, which was based out of L.A.,” Shaun O’Hara, professor of dance and director of Virginia Repertory Theatre, said. “Unexpectedly, Horton died and Ailey took over the company.”

O’Hara attributes the company’s success to their style.

“Why Ailey has always been successful is that it has always been accessible,” O’Hara said, especially in relationship to the audience.

Today Alvin Ailey leads Ailey II, with new artistic director Troy Powell, as a secondary school and as a type of apprenticeship program. 

“At a certain point you want to get them on stage working with advanced choreographers and the dancer will hopefully get to the next level,” O’Hara said. 

After dancing all over the globe, coming to JMU to perform felt nostalgic to first-year Ailey II dancer Nathaniel Hunt. 

“I went to a college university for my undergraduate [degree],” Hunt said. “It kind of felt like an old reminiscing of my college days, especially teaching a master class.”

Today, Hunt considers Alvin Ailey guest artist and rehearsal director Matthew Rushing to be the mentor that inspires him. 

“Matthew is so soulful, which is why his movement quality is so euphoric and enriching,” Hunt said. “It really makes me think about my own quality as a dancer. I feel like Matthew has a spiritual connection when he is dancing, which makes me want to dive into my dancing and into my spiritual connection.”

After teaching one of the master classes for dance majors on Monday, Hunt said his goal is to inspire the students. 

“I would like them to know they have something special and that something never needs to be proven, never needs to be judged,” Hunt said. “It just needs to be shared because everyone has something special.”

Bringing Ailey II to JMU was a blend for the benefits of both the audience and JMU’s dance students, accomplishing the goal of bringing in guest artists on behalf of Forbes’ master series. 

According to Jen Kulju, public relations and marketing specialist at Forbes, the executive director of Forbes Regan Byrne looks for performers the audience can learn from as well as appreciate. 

Kulju had her own thoughts on the best reason for bringing Ailey II to Forbes. 

“The goal of art is to inspire or invoke some sort of emotion and [Ailey II] certainly does that,” Kulju said. 

Actions spoke louder than words on Tuesday night, for the audience gave a standing ovation so long that dancers did the final piece of “Revelations,” (“Rock-a My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,”) again. Both times this soulful piece was complemented with high energy from the dancers and clapping along by the audience.

This was followed by more applause that could hardly be silenced.


Contact Rebecca Josephson at