About the Author:
Dwana Adiaha Smallwood, Dancer
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
City Center, 55th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, NYC, 212.581.1212, www.citycenter.org
Alvin Ailey - Founder
Judith Jamison - Artistic Director
Judith H. Weill, Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Masazumi Chaya - Associate Artistic Director
Sharon Gersten Luckman —Executive Director
James King, General Manager
Amadea Edwards, Administrative Manager
Bernice Collins, Company Manager
Jodi Pam Krizer, Director, Marketing and Public Relations
Lynette Rizzo, Marketing Manager
Beth Olsen - Public Relations Manager
Cohn Davis Associates—Publicity
Interview by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 19, 2002, with Dwana Adiaha Smallwood, a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, by telephone. (See Review, New Ailey Center Grounbreaking Ceremony). Ms. Smallwood is the subject of this Inside Perspective.
Dwana Adiaha Smallwood
Choreographer: Alvin Ailey
Photo by Andrew Eccles
REZ - I would like to focus this conversation on your solo role in Cry, which I just saw you dance this past week at City Center ( See Review). What was your experience, preparing for this demanding solo role? Were you directed by Judith Jamison, Artistic Director, for whom this role was created by Mr. Ailey?
DAS - When we first learned this role, three girls were told that we'd learn this dance, but we could not be guaranteed that we would actually perform onstage. Judith Jamison taught the bulk of it to me. The three of us, who learned the piece, were such individual people, that you can't run this as a group. It was a shock to run through this for sixteen minutes. If we thought about ourselves in the role, we would stop. We had to think of the bigger picture to know what Alvin Ailey was doing.
That image of Judith Jamison jumping up and dancing with each of us, to keep us going, was something I won't forget. Alvin Ailey wrote about joy and about being a black woman. Cry was written as a gift to his mother, who was in the audience. Judith Jamison was the person he put it on to dance for his mother. She was so perfect for this role.
I know the steps, but for me it takes a lot of meditation and silence to allow myself to be open. Silence allows people to get closer to the truth. The mental and emotional focus necessary for this piece is immense.
REZ - How did you manage the enormously ruffled, long white dress and long white cloth?
DAS - I requested to rehearse in this skirt and with the long white cloth. Sometimes I used the cloth, as if I'm scrubbing and cleaning the floor, and sometimes as a wrap for an angelic time, the time of my ancestors. I also held the cloth like something very vulnerable in life, something I'm responsible for, something I brought into life.
REZ - Did you ever meet Alvin Ailey?
DAS - I never met Ailey, but to dance Alvin Ailey's pieces is to know Alvin Ailey. If you dance Revelations (See Review) once, you know Alvin Ailey.
REZ —You studied at the Martha Graham School. Did you ever meet Martha Graham?
DAS - Yes, Martha Graham would come out into class and make us exercise over and over. But, Judith Jamison has been my mentor for years. She brings it out of you. I didn't know Martha Graham in this way. She just demanded excellence. I've known Judith Jamison for many years. She strives for excellence and demands openness and honesty.
REZ - What else are you rehearsing right now?
DAS - I'm rehearsing Chocolate Sessions, Episodes, and The River.