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Alvin Ailey. Photo by Normand Maxon, Courtesy AAADT

Here's some Monday news to rock your soul: An upcoming Fox Searchlight film about the life of Alvin Ailey just got even more enticing—Barry Jenkins, the filmmaker who won an Oscar for Moonlight, has signed on as director.

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Misty Copeland opened the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

What does it mean to be human? Well, many things. But if you were at the Dance Magazine Awards last night, you could argue that to be human is to dance. Speeches about the powerful humanity of our art form were backed up with performances by incredible dancers hailing from everywhere from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to Miami City Ballet.

Misty Copeland started off the celebration. A self-professed "Dance Magazine connoisseur from the age of 13," she not only spoke about how excited she was to be in a room full of dancers, but also—having just come from Dance Theatre of Harlem's memorial for Arthur Mitchell—what she saw as their duty: "We all in this room hold a responsibility to use this art for good," she said. "Dance unifies, so let's get to work."

That sentiment was repeated throughout the night.

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Ballet Stars
New York City Ballet's Olivia Boisson. Photo by Melika Dez, Courtesy Black Iris Project.

In 2016, choreographer Jeremy McQueen founded the Black Iris Project with the aim of bringing together predominantly minority dancers each summer to create works that celebrate diversity and black history. This year, he's mixing it up. In honor of South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela's 100th birthday on July 18, McQueen created 100 FISTS in collaboration with photographer Melika Dez. Each day, for the hundred days leading up to Mandela's birthday, BIP has released a photo on social media of a black dancer in a New York City location, posed with their hand in a fist. Each photo is paired with an inspirational quote by Mandela. Pointe caught up with McQueen to find out how this project came together and what's next for the fledgling collective.

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Ballet Stars
Arthur Mitchell. Photo by Eileen Barroso, Courtesy Columbia University.

When American Ballet Theatre soloist Calvin Royal III and New York City Ballet soloist Unity Phelan burst into the opening diagonal of George Balanchine's Agon on Monday, they had reason to be nervous. Sitting in the downstage corner of Columbia University's Miller Theater—precisely where they'd need to spot their pencil turns—was Arthur Mitchell, the Dance Theater of Harlem co-founder and longtime director who originated the male role at NYCB in 1957. It was a rare and exciting moment of the future meeting the past. (Royal later described the experience as "surreal.") The two dancers, who had been coached by former NYCB principal Heather Watts, gave an electric and intense performance. Afterwards, Mitchell turned to the audience from his blue leather chair and smiled. "I would say it's in good hands."


Royal III and Phelan performing "Agon" during the Vail Dance Festival. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy Vail Dance Festival.

Their appearance was part of "An Informal Performance on the Art of Dance," an evening directed by Mitchell to celebrate both his legacy and the Arthur Mitchell archive at Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library. (The first exhibition featuring Mitchell's donated archives will be on display at Columbia's Wallach Art Gallery January 13–March 11, 2018.) A slew of guest artists came together for the program, which included works by Balanchine, Alvin Ailey and Mitchell himself (including his South African Suite and Rythmetron).

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A lake is a familiar setting for a ballet, though usually its shore is home to swans or Wilis. In “The Lake" section of Alvin Ailey's The River, which he choreographed for American Ballet Theatre in 1970, the dancers represent the water itself. In this clip, former ABT principal Cynthia Gregory appears clad in a simple dress of muted gray, like the color of silt stirred up from a lake's murky bottom. To the plucking strings and sonorous horns of Duke Ellington's score, she commands our attention with her swirling and confident shapes. The melody intermittently becomes a tango when Marcos Paredes and other ABT dancers join in, their bodies undulating like lapping waves. The group's level changes and the weight of Gregory's sensual lyricism evoke a lake's mysterious depths.

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The dance film The Enemy Within premiered in New York four days ago. The short film features New York City Ballet's Tiler Peck, Alvin Ailey's Matthew Rushing, Complexions' Samantha Figgins, and freestyle dancer Marquese "Nonstop" Scott. It's hard to imagine that anything these dancers are in together could be bad.

The film describes itself as a "never-before-seen collaboration, which is a bit of an exaggeration considering that many dance films feature technically trained ballet dancers pairing up with street dancers. That said, the dream-like quaility of the narrative certainly sets it apart. I also appreciate that the director, Preston Miller, utilized dance as the preferred language to examine the universal struggle against self-doubt. By using dance itself to tell a story about something that all dancers (and all people) face, he does credit to the art form and the possibilities of dance on film.


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