Ailey dancer Troy O’Neil Powell, whose first choreography premieres next week at City Center, was nine years old— the youngest in a family of six— when company representatives came to East Harlem’s P.S. 50 looking for a few good kids. They picked Powell; ArtsConnection bused him and a handful of gifted classmates to Ailey headquarters, then in Times Square, twice a week for introductory dance classes.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but it seemed like so much fun, so much energy; it was something I wanted to do. It was more work than I thought. We did floor barre and things that strengthen and stretch the body; for a male it was really complicated.” In eighth grade he moved into Ailey’s junior division program on scholarship, and got into
LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts. After graduation he joined Ailey Rep, and made it into the first company in 1991; since then he’s also performed with Kathy Posin’s troupe and Complexions/A Concept in Dance. “I grew up with Desmond Richardson, and Dwight Rhoden’s a mentor,” he says of Complexions’ directors. Now he lives in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights.
Ascension, his new work to music by Michael Wimberly, is “my first major dance; I’ve choreographed on students a lot the past three years. This opportunity came and things just started coming; I began to see, learn, grow, find things out about the dancers I’m working with.”
He started last summer with Ailey dancers Desiree Vlad, Matthew Rushing, Jeffrey Gerodias, and Glenn Sims. “It’s about the power of rising. The character Desiree’s playing is a vulnerable woman who appears from out of the atmosphere. Each guy represents a personality. There’s nothing sexy about it. It’s not a lot of love and passion— it’s more mental. Each guy gives her a different energy, driven from their personality. She mixes and mingles and realizes which guy is going to give her strength and energy. When they have no more to give her, they send her off. I only have 10 minutes to tell this story in a ballet, so I hope it gets across.”
When he’s not on tour, he often lectures to school groups. “I talk about the company, about men in dance, to encourage men that dance is OK, that it’s actually very educational. Touring around, you learn. It’s given me the opportunity to learn about the business also. We had to write up a proposal: intent, number of dancers, the music. That’s something dancers aren’t used to doing, especially if you aren’t going to college.”