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Interview: Ashley Kaylynn Green of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

First-season Ailey dancer Ashley Kaylynn Green on legacy, improv, and meditation through movement ahead of the company's first tour stop in Philadelphia.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Ashley Kaylynn Green looking into the camera, hands placed tenderly and thoughtfully against her neck and one side of her head
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Ashley Kaylynn Green. Photo by Dario Calmese

A two-year tour intermission comes to a close this week for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, which performs in Philadelphia at the Kimmel Cultural Campus' Academy of Music this weekend from Jan. 28 to Jan. 30. In anticipation of the company's first stop, contributing editor G K Schatzman spoke to Ailey dancer Ashley Kaylynn Green. Ms. Green joined the company this past year, in 2021, after a successful digital season Whim W'Him Seattle Contemporary Dance following her 2020 graduation from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA with a BFA in dance.

Philly is the first stop on your tour. How does it feel?

It feels crazy and exciting because this is my first tour in general, and it's also my first year in the company. It feels kind of like I'd dreaming, because I honestly didn't think we'd be able to go because of COVID, so the fact that we're allowed to go has been super exciting. I'm kind of nervous, but really, really excited.

Dance Magazine called you one of their "25 to watch in 2022" for your work in Whim W'Him's all-digital 2020-21 season. How does it feel to be back in front of a live audience in a performance hall?

Being back honestly feels kind of weird sometimes. For, like, a year, I was hiding behind a camera, and I never had to dance in front of people who weren't already in the room all the time. Now, being on stage again, it feels like, "Wow. This is what I signed up for." The video and digital stuff - that's not why we dance. We all start loving performing because we love to perform for people. Performing for people now feels like, "This is why I'm a dancer."

Artistic director Robert Battle described said of you, "She's not trying on the movement, she's living it." Your improvisations videos on Instagram (@awagreen98) challenge what words are able to describe. At one point you call them "movement meditations" In those free-form moments, where do you find your movement comes from?

I've always been an improver, but the pandemic changed my outlook completely on my movement and who I'm dancing for and why I'm dancing. I don't want to dance unless it's for a purpose, unless I'm trying to be intentional. When I'm going into improv, I'm just trying to find peace, and movement brings me peace. If my heart doesn't feel right, or if my heart even feels amazing, I need movement to calm me down. I'm someone who is super excited and super anxious and all these things all the time. The movement literally comes from my soul, and I feel it so deeply and so honestly. It feels like a meditation through my body. I really don't know what I am doing. I'll wonder, "How did that come through me in that moment?" It's so strange, and I never know how to explain it aside from saying that.

What pieces can we look forward to seeing you in during the upcoming show?

I am performing Blues Suite both nights and I'm performing Mass as well. And I'm performing Revelations, as always. And for the first time, I get to perform this piece called For Four by Robert Battle. I learned it this year, and it feels like a big honor to be in this piece.

Can you tell us about For Four?

For Four is a jazz score. It's the most beautiful piece of music, in my opinion. It's written in four/four time - LOL - and the piece is really about capturing the energy of a world cooped up during the pandemic. Mr. Battle always tells us that it really expresses a drive to perform. It's about how electrified we all feel because we were pent up during this whole pandemic, and now we're finally released. I feel like the piece wraps up everything about the pandemic, including Black Lives Matter and social injustices. It's unexpected, because the music makes you think that it's upbeat, but there's also a deep meaning behind the piece, which I think is beautiful.

Is there a piece that you're looking forward to performing this upcoming week that you feel like is meeting you where you are as a dancer in a special way?

Honestly, there's two answers. First, Blues Suite, which is really Mr. Ailey's first full ballet. That piece pushes me so much, pushes my heart strings so much, pushes me to tap into somebody who I am. I'm Baby Girl in that piece, and it's all about being depressed and trying to get out and find the strength for what you want to be and what you want to do. I can relate to that. That's me. I'm in a rut sometimes, and I'm sad sometimes. Diving into that as fully as I can is really exciting, and it really moves me a lot.

The other piece is Revelations. When I first performed it in December, I cried when I got off the stage. I didn't expect the piece to hit me the way it did. You feel Ailey's spirit, like he's with you in your dancing. It's a feeling that I've never experienced before. The piece is timeless, and to actually perform this legendary piece, you can't help but bring all of you to it. It's relatable to every single person, and I'm blessed to perform it.

Covid has been a huge disruption in most folks' training and performance routines. As Ailey comes back on tour in 2022, what's different for you on what I'll tentatively call "the other side of this"?

The biggest difference is pressure of being back - the pressure of keeping the legacy what it is and keeping that legacy excellent. Trying to give people the same energy they had before the pandemic, and trying to provide that love for art. Everyone's so eager for that right now, because we didn't have it for so long. Trying to keep that love alive, I feel so much responsibility, in the best way, to honor Mr. Ailey and his legacy, but also to honor the audience members in trying to give them a performance that will also make them come back and appreciate the art. I always cared about the audience, but it's so different now. You care about them so much more, but you also care about your crew, your dancers, your peers so much more, because you know how big it is and how it can be gone in a second.

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