Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Jamar Roberts was recently named the company’s first-ever resident choreographer. Out of college, the Miami native joined Ailey II, and later AAADT in 2002.
“When I found out I was going to be Ailey’s first resident choreographer, I think my life changed in that very second,” Roberts said. “Everything I had been working toward, working for…every hobby I had ever pursued…they all found their place. I thought, “This is what you will make costumes for, this is where you will make your dances, and this is who you will make your dances for. Everything had purpose in that second, and it made me very happy and proud, and grateful more than anything. It’s an opportunity that not a lot of choreographers get.”
He added, “I am thankful to Robert Battle, Judith Jamison and Masazumi Chaya who trusted me to make work that speaks to the legacy of this company.”
Roberts works include Gemeos, which he created for Ailey II (the second company) in 2016, and Members Don’t Get Weary for the main company, of which The New York Times’ Gia Kourlas said was “as emotional as it was virtuosic.”
Roberts’ newest work, Ode, will premiere during Ailey’s 2019 New York City Center season. According to the company, “it’s the first in a series of three works and offers a meditation on the beauty and fragility of life in a time of growing gun violence.” Roberts noted that he wanted to make the piece two summers ago in memory of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and others.
Below is a Q&A with Roberts about the making of Ode. It appears on the company’s website:
You’ve said your second work for the Company is a poetic tribute to the victims of gun violence in America. Why this work? Why now?
This work stems from a very personal place; it was something that I wanted to express long before now. I’m an artist, I’m a choreographer – I’m not a politician, I’m not an activist. I just have lots of feelings and lots of empathy that I just put into the work, and that’s how I speak.
Can you describe the costumes you’ve designed for Ode?
The costumes are quite simple. I just wanted to make something that’s reminiscent of old modern dance. The fabric is dyed with five different colors, to create the look of an aged flower, and the bottom is brown, which is supposed to represent the earth.
Tell us about the set designed by Libby Stadstad.
Flowers will be constructed using a material called opera netting which allows them to look as if they’re floating in space. The setting is neither on earth or in the afterlife; it’s in some place that’s earthly enough to embody a flower, but non-earthly enough so that they can float.
Why did you choose to set Ode to pianist Don Pullen’s “Suite (Sweet) Malcolm (Part 1 Memories and Gunshots)”?
The music has this really interesting structure. Normally songs start and have an arc, so it goes up to a climactic moment and then comes back down. This structure is more of a U-shape. So it starts really beautifully, dips down into a space of complete mayhem, and then it comes out of it in a very beautiful way.
Ode will be performed by AAADT on the evenings of December 10 and 14; a matinee on December 15; and the evenings of January 1, 2 and 4.