Waiting for the final rehearsal of this year’s AileyCamp Newark to begin, Marcel Coleman, NJPAC’s new Manager of Arts Education Performances, points at a couple of boys in the third row of the Victoria Theater. That’s about where he sat, years ago at a dance performance for schoolchildren, when he thought to himself: I want to be a part of this.
It’s highly likely that wish was also silently whispered by the 92 middle-school students who signed on for AileyCamp, a six-week dance program conducted by the Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The full-scholarship day camp, founded in 1989, first arrived at NJPAC in 2011 through the support of Prudential, its lead funder. Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary nationwide, AileyCamp is offered in seven other cities this year: New York (Washington Heights); Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City, Kansas; Atlanta, Ga.; Berkeley, Calif.; Miami, Fla., and Bridgeport, Conn.
Coleman, who later parlayed his dance training and business smarts into a career in arts administration, is NJPAC’s liaison with the Ailey company for the culminating performance of the dance intensive. (Ailey is the principal resident dance company of NJPAC.) Students are taught by a team of professionals to use dance for stretching the mind and soul along with the body. Their tuition, uniforms, dancewear, field trips, breakfast and lunch are provided at no cost.
For the final showcase, titled “Power, Passion, Purpose,” campers gave a high-octane demonstration of what they learned from about a dozen professional coaches. Their curriculum included ballet technique, Horton-based modern dance, jazz and West African dance, as well as percussion class to spice up their musicality. The side benefits are improved self-esteem, discipline and creative expression.
The performance reflected a mix of genres. Percussionist Matthew Hill led 13 of his drumming students in his original work, The Initiation: Lifted, Washed, and Ready. The multimedia Beautiful Piece challenged campers to coordinate spoken word, rap, instrumental music and vocals with a slideshow.
Three of the dance excerpts were inspired by choreographic greats: Alvin Ailey (Night Creature, How Does Your Garden Grow?) and Rennie Harris (Home). Finding Home, choreographed by Darius “Damazi” Williams and set to monologist Daniel Beaty’s poem Knock Knock, allowed the boys to test the emotional power of modern and hip-hop dance. While much of the movement in the West African-flavored dances are bound to the earth, the campers were able to cut loose in works such as Claire Tunkel’s buoyant Impressions, with its flying leaps and cartwheels.
“It’s been rewarding to watch AileyCamp continue to evolve and inspiring to see campers transform over the summer through this program that’s instrumental to their continued development,” says Nasha Thomas-Schmitt, National Director of AileyCamp and a former member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. “Bringing to life Mr. Ailey’s belief that ‘dance came from the people and should always be delivered back to the people,’ the AileyCamp experience touches their hearts, minds and spirits.”
AileyCamp Newark alumni will reunite at NJPAC in the Spring as part of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s annual engagement on May 10 and 11.