Alicia Graf Mack

The gift that keeps on giving is back at Ailey.

It's great that he has that athletic backgrounds so he understands your life.
He gets it. And he gets what it is to be under pressure, to be competitive and to deal with body issues.

What are you excited about dancing this season?
I'm excited for it all. I love Arden Court. I know you saw me bust my butt the other day [in rehearsal] in front of Paul Taylor. I fall a lot. I'm kind of clumsy in that way.

You've never danced a Taylor work before. How do you find the movement?
It's very classical, which is a realm I'm comfortable in, but at the same time there's a lot of upper body and torso work that lends itself to the feeling of joy and expression and all the things that Arden Court is supposed to be about. He's a genius and it's clear from the choreography how he uses the music and different formations in the groups that move in and out of each other. I think our company does it really well. I think he felt that, too. I get to dance with Antonio, which is really fun. I'm doing [Rennie Harris's] Home, and so you'll get to see me do some hip-hop, which is very funny. But when Rennie came, he gave us a lot of workshops on the different techniques of hip-hop; it's kind of like learning any technique. Once you understand how the body's supposed to move in the rhythm, it becomes second nature in a way. I took a lot of jazz and hip-hop when I was younger and my sister actually is a hip-hop dancer. She trained here at the Ailey School and has her B.F.A. from Hofstra University. She's a commercial dancer and also a singer—she's signed to the same manager who developed Alicia Keys—her name is Daisha Graf. She's an up-and-coming star.

Is she as tall as you are?
She's almost my height: she's 5'8" and a half.

You're dancing "Fix Me, Jesus" from Revelations.
When I thought of the Ailey company when I was young, that's what I thought of. I had a video and I would watch the "Fix Me" variation over and over. To be able to do that is really special. It's a vulnerable piece and I think it's something that highlights the things that I'm good at.

Streams is a challenge—a good challenge. I think it's one of the hardest Ailey pieces that I've done. It's extremely technical and quick.

He loved petit allegro!
Yeah [Smiles]. The solo that I do, "Lamentoso," was originally choreographed on Judith Jamison and it's very leggy, but it's very quick. I like that. I am very excited for Memoria. For me, it's the epitome of the Ailey experience: It's beauty, it has history, there's a legacy behind it—the story of Joyce Trisler [it is a tribute to the choreographer and dancer] and her friendship with Mr. Ailey. It's something that I want to do well in because I think it's really important.

You're only dancing it once?
Yeah. We're only doing it three times this season. Donna Wood came in to coach the three dancers and when she walked in the room I was fighting this lump in my throat. You cannot start crying in rehearsal! [Laughs] It's that moment that Robert was talking about. [When I was younger] I had a video of Donna Wood doing Cry. I had never seen anyone move like that before and I had never seen anyone who looked like her dance before. And to be in the room with someone like that? She is a diva. Not a diva who requires a lot of attention or someone who's hard to understand—she's extremely down-to-earth—but she just has all of those qualities that we talked about before. Just the opening position, the way that she stands. How she communicates to do a movement. The piece is quite long—it's half an hour and you're dancing almost the whole time. She got through coaching the entire piece in three hours and because she gave a lot of imagery, the technical parts felt much easier. She would talk about how to let the movement build. How it should feel like a swirl around you leading up to her ascent. And then she would tell funny stories—there are arm gestures that are very classically Ailey, and she would tell us how he would say, "Okay, now add a head to it. Now add some feet to it." You could hear his voice through her and what's so special about this institution is that Alvin Ailey's spirit is very much alive here. All the time. People will tell stories. Or even doing his ballets over and over again, you get to know someone through their vision; even though I've never met him, I feel like I know something about him. I think that's something that Robert holds very close to him. Although he never danced with the company—he's a history buff and I know he's very intent to learn everything about him, and that stays alive too.

What else?
I'm doing Journey, which was choreographed by Joyce Trisler and is another challenging piece. It's very slow. It's a haunting solo and one of these pieces that is so still and silent that it's much harder than doing anything that's 32 fouett turns, so it's a good challenge. Minus 16. Ohad [Naharin] is coming today! All of this is really new.