By Walter Rutledge
For the past thirty-eight years Ailey II has provided opportunities of aspiring young artists to hone their craft. The company usually will enlist the services of a dancer for two years, and then the artist, for lack of a better word, “graduates” into the professional world of entertainment. Throughout Ailey II’s thirty-eight year history there has been hundreds of dancers fortunate enough to make that transition, but there has always been one constant- Artistic Director Sylvia Waters.
In 1974 Waters was selected by Alvin Ailey to develop an ensemble that would give young artists performing experience. The Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble began as a workshop. Ailey II has evolved into a formidable dance company in it’s own right, with a solid reputation and globe trekking touring schedule.
Throughout this evolution Waters has directed the company with style and grace. Teacher, mentor, curator are just a few of the many monikers she has donned. On June 30, 2012 Waters will retire from her position as Ailey II Artistic Director.
A graduate of the Julliard School (B.S. in Dance) she toured Europe in 1964 with a production of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity. Waters lived in Paris for over three years working on stage and in television, and with Michel Descombey of the Paris Opera Ballet. It was during this time she danced with the renowned choreographer Maurice Bejart’s in his company Ballet of the Twentieth Century.
Waters danced with Bejart’s company at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City; coincidently Alvin Ailey’s Revelations was also performed at the Olympics that year. Shortly after, she returned to the United States and became a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She danced with the Ailey Company for seven years until 1975.
Her greatest contribution to dance has been as Artistic Director of Ailey II. Under her vigilance young artists have grown from neophytes to professionals. More than just a director she has been a mentor and role modeling to many of the artists. Presently eighty-five percent of the dancers in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater were under her tutelage.
As a curator she has amassed an impressive repertoire that has a distinct Ailey II signature. In many respects Ailey II has often functioned as a choreographic laboratory. Presenting the works of the best and most innovative emerging and established dance makers. The list reads like a who’s who of dance including the works of experimental, cutting edge and established choreographers Alvin Ailey, Donald Byrd, Ulysses Dove, Ralph Lemon, Bebe Miller, Talley Beatty, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Artistic Director Robert Battle.
“Like so many others, I began my connection with the Ailey organization through Sylvia Waters when she invited me to choreograph for Ailey II in 1999,” remarked Battle. “She has such a keen eye for identifying budding emerging artists and the works premiering this season are great examples of that sensibility. I owe Sylvia my deepest gratitude for all that she has done for me and I look forward to celebrating her during this very special season.”
Waters has received numerous awards, including an honorary doctorate from the State University of New York at Oswego, the Dance Magazine Award, Syracuse University’s Women of Distinction Award, and the Legacy Award from the twentieth Annual International Association of Blacks in Dance Festival. She has also served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts and has worked as a guest lecturer at Harvard University. Her future plans include leading the Ailey Legacy Residency, a new lecture, technique and repertory program for college-level students that explores the history and creative heritage of Alvin Ailey.
You can share in the celebration of Sylvia Waters’ final Ailey II season beginning Wednesday April 18 through Sunday April 29 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. For tickets, program schedules and more information about the company visit www.AlvinAiley.org/AileyII or www.ovationtix.com or call 866-811-4111. Tickets can be purchased at The Ailey Citigroup Theater box office located at 405 West 55th Street. Check website for hours of operation.
In Photo: 1) Sylvia Waters 2) Waters, Troy Powell and Ailey II 3) Waters and Dudley Williams 4) Fana Tesfagiorgis
Photo Credits: 1,2&4) Eduardo Patino 3) Fehl
Video Edit: Walter Rutledge