Room for seconds

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

When choreographer Alvin Ailey created his "second company," the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, in 1974, he stood at the forefront of that particular trend - highlighting promising, still-emerging talent.

Since then, such companies have sprung up around the world, from the Netherlands Dance Theatre's NDT2 to the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company's DCDC2. Do not think for a moment, though, that "second company" has anything to do with second rate.

Ailey's Repertory Ensemble eventually took on the name Ailey II. And just last month, the woman who has directed the ensemble since the beginning, Sylvia Waters, received the prestigious Dance Magazine Award, an indication of the level of esteem in which both Waters and Ailey II are held.

Each year, 12 of the most promising dancers in the Ailey School (founded by its namesake in 1969) become Ailey II. Historically, about 85 percent of the dancers in the first company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, have climbed the ladder from the Ailey School to Ailey II to AAADT, but there are no guarantees.

Ailey II visits Columbus on Tuesday for a concert that showcases the depth and breadth of its talent. Alive spoke with Levi Philip Marsman, one of those dozen supremely talented Ailey II dancers, in anticipation of that visit.

Marsman was drawn to dance at the age of seven, when the Ailey company came to the Boston Renaissance Charter School to present a workshop and performance.

"That day I realized I really wanted to dance," he recalled, "and ever since then I've been trying to get into the school and into the company and just work my way into dance because of that experience."

Marsman is now a senior in the Ailey/Fordham Bachelor of Fine Arts program in dance, in partnership with Fordham University. He expects to graduate later this year and, like most of his fellow Ailey II dancers, dreams of moving up to the first company.

For now, though, he's preparing for Ailey II's North American tour, which is making its first U.S. stop in Columbus. Three recent works are on the program: Bitter Suite (2005) by Scott Rink, Splendid Isolation II (2006) by Jessica Lang and Movin' On (2008) by George Faison.

Marsman described Bitter Suite as "a pretty comical piece. The audience always raves about it." Danced "to a revamped rendition of some James Bond music," it features four couples in various stages of conflict.

Splendid Isolation II is among Marsman's favorite ballets, both to dance and to watch. It is "mainly focused around a duet with a female and a male, basically about the idea of being alone ... and how good it is to connect with another group of people," he explained.

Marsman describes Movin' On as a Romeo and Juliet type of story, set to music by Betty Carter.

"Almost everyone in the piece has a solo, and it's the whole company all on one stage together," he said. "To be on stage and enjoying what each of us has to put out to the audience is just amazing.

"The pride of our rehearsal process is the fact that we're working directly with the choreographer," Marsman added. "The choreographers love coming in to work with us."

Second company, yes, but first class all the way.

What: "Ailey II"

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27

Where: Riffe Center Capitol Theatre, Downtown