Alicia Graf Mack

The gift that keeps on giving is back at Ailey.

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I like Battle's ideas for the new rep: They're not groundbreaking, but they're still interesting and good and solid.
I think so, too. It's not too much of a departure from what is Ailey and what makes us special, but at the same time it pushes the envelope and keeps us moving into the future.

Are you teaching in the school?
I'm not, but during the international tour I got to teach warm-up class to the company. There are five dancer-teachers when we go on tour and are in cities where we don't have a relationship with someone. So I got to teach company class a few times a week and that was great because it kept me teaching. It's like a muscle. You have to do it a lot to be good at it, and also it kept me thinking about something else besides performing. I'm very obsessive. Most dancers are. I could think about choreography all night long, and it will keep me up. So to plan a class or study—before, I was doing classes online just to get my mind off of dancing.

To calm yourself down?
Yeah. I used to do that at Dance Theatre of Harlem, just to get my brain off of things. This time I was planning a class, which is still dance, but it's different [than performing].

At COCA, what was a good fit for you age-wise in terms of teaching?
I really enjoyed teaching the college students; the high-school students were great too. The students that I taught at COCA—they had the potential to work in the field. I like to be more of a coach, to fine-tune. I don't really enjoy teaching how to stand in first position or how to do a pirouette, but once I see someone do it I can work on mechanics or intention or motivation.

Do you think that anything in terms of the race issue has changed in the ballet world?
I think in the world in general, race is an issue and of course in the ballet world it remains an issue. I guess looking at the ranks of different companies, I don't see a lot of change, but I'm not really involved with a lot of ballet companies. I don't have a close relationship with companies right now, so it's hard for me to speak on that. I will say that there are some dancers that are steaming fourth on our behalf. Some women that I'm really inspired by—of course, Misty Copeland. She's doing her thing and inspiring a lot of students and young girls to stay in ballet, which is great. Aesha Ash has created her own voice in the dance world in doing a lot of community work. I think that's great. Dance Theatre of Harlem's school and the ensemble is still doing some really great work. Pushing forward.

Tiny steps.
Tiny steps. I think it's going to take awhile.

You have a master's in nonprofit management. How would you fix the dance world?
What I did learn about running an organization is that your people are your strongest asset, and so the most important thing is to find people who are passionate about the dance world and about that specific company or school and its mission. Beyond that is organizing the right leadership and finding the right combination of people. Once that happens, other things tend to fall into place, but the hardest thing is finding people who are passionate about companies and schools and knowing that even the most talented people who have a lot of education—you're not going to make a lot of money. So it's hard to find people who are very talented and educated to work for a startup or under a failing company. When the right combination of people come together, that's when you have something that you can build upon.

Would you one day want to be an executive director of a company?
Not right now. I love being in the studio. I might always just want to be in the studio. I'm not really sure. I kind of just want to dance forever. [Laughs] Obviously, not on such an intense level, but I want to stay performing. I want to be in the studio, and to do both is impossible. So we'll see.

It's great how the Ailey company worked out for you. You really do like dancing here, don't you?
I love it here. No. 1: I can be myself. The minute I joined, I wasn't asked to belike someone else. I got in as me! [Laughs] And that's good. You don't want to have to fight for who you are when you join a company. I love the freedom that comes with performing all the time. You get to the point where it's not scary to be onstage and you get a chance to find yourself as a performer and not just as a dancer. I find with a lot of companies you're in rehearsal mode and then you have that one week to get it all out and it's stressful. Here, it feels like a lifetime of shows. I also find that I've been asked to do so many things that are out of my comfort zone that now there really is no comfort zone. You have no time to be nervous or to question yourself. I like that living-on-the-edge feeling. Most of the time, I love the music that we dance to. Almost all the time, the pieces that we do are uplifting or inspirational in some way. Whether it's just beautiful, whether it's so ugly that it's beautiful, whether it's so physical that it drains the audience members, whether it's actually spiritual like Revelations—there's always some heart to the rep that we do. And that keeps me going.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is at New York City Center Nov 30--Jan 1. 

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