Dancing Gracefully in “Memoria”

Sophia Chang/New University

Prominently known as a vital American cultural ambassador to the world, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater has been captivating audiences across the globe for 52 years. To celebrate these 52 years of their great services to the dance world, they are putting on an unprecedented 10 performances to commemorate the occasion. Led by artistic director Judith Jamison, UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts’ very own third-year Charlotte Young will be joining this extraordinary and talented group of dancers.

It was hard, if not impossible for a 6-year-old Young to imagine that she would one day have the opportunity to dance with the esteemed theater.

“It was just one of those things your mom puts you in when you’re little, you know?” Young said about her origins as a dancer. “I kept with it, and danced through high school and eventually in community college.”

It would be at Irvine Valley College where Young’s training as a dancer would really soar.

“It was my first real, professional training in my dance career. My instructor Marie was amazing,” Young said. “I’m not the type of person who has one specific role model or anything, but if I had to pick one it would be her.”

It is interesting to note that Marie de la Palme is an award-winning choreographer and respected dancer who also danced under Alvin Ailey, foreshadowing Young’s bright future in Southern California.

By some degree of chance, Young came upon this opportunity. Initially, she was searching the Alvin Ailey Web site in search of tickets for the event.

“I happened to scroll to the bottom of the page and in small print there was a thing about auditions,” Young said. “I was a little intimidated, but my family really encouraged me to go for it.”

Auditions took place on a Sunday, with Young being one of 34 people at the audition she attended.

“It seemed to me really last minute, and they took 23 of us,” Young said.

The very next day, a Monday, rehearsals started.

Despite being based originally in New York, Young is participating in Alvin Ailey’s performances in Los Angeles. The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater has performed in 71 countries on six continents — the well-travelled cultural experience is a big deal.

“It was hard balancing classes here and driving up to Los Angeles every day for rehearsal,” Young said. “It’s been extremely taxing on my body. Since I’m in only one of the pieces, doing the same motions over and over again started to really take its toll.”

Young pushed through these rehearsals, which were every day of the week except for Sunday.

“It was a like a ‘boot camp’ for learning the piece,” Young said. “We only had two weeks to learn it, so none of us had the time to really build up the strength and endurance we normally have time to build. ‘Memoria,’ the piece I’m in, takes a lot of control and strength so I definitely had to take it up a notch.”

“Memoria,” the piece that Young will be performing, was choreographed by Ailey himself in 1979. The piece is dedicated to the memory of his friend and fellow choreographer Joyce Trisler, who died suddenly while Ailey was on tour. Since Ailey was not able to attend his friend’s funeral, it was his way of commemorating the life of his long-time friend.

Split into two parts, with the first being titled “In Memory” and the second being “In Celebration,” the piece depicts a woman transitioning into another life; it is presented as a celebration of her life.

“It’s an emotional piece, and the dancers are these beings that depict these emotions,” Young said.

Young was never hesitant to illustrate how extraordinary an opportunity this is for her, not only because of the prestige surrounding the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater but also because of how iconic these performances are.

Every night ends with “Revelations,” widely considered the signature work of Ailey, as well as one of the most popular and well-known dances in modern history. “Revelations” depicts the journey of the African-American people through the dark times of slavery into freedom.

“Alvin Ailey began as an African-American dance company, but today it’s very multicultural,” Young said.

For Young, being a part of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater means so much more than just being on a stage in front of 3,000 people at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, performing these timeless pieces for the audience. It’s about being a part of the legacy that Ailey has created not only as a cultural icon, but also to provide audiences around the world a taste of the magic of dance infused with the emotional history of the African-American people.