Ailey/Fordham BFA Dancers Present Annual Fall Concert



Sophomore Henry McCall performing Kanji Segawa’s “Scorching Bay” in last year’s fall concert. (COURTESY OF EDUARDO PATINO VIA ALVIN AILEY PRESS ROOM)


On Thursday, Nov. 19, the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program will put on its second consecutive day of their annual Fall Concert. The show will present the works of choreographers Cheryl Copeland, Amy Hall Garner, Tom Gold, Natalie Lomonte, Andre Tyson, Jae Man Joo and Alvin Ailey.

After auditioning, dancers get selected to work with one of two choreographers assigned to each graduating class. Mariah Gravelin, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC ‘18), was selected to work with choreographer Natalie Lomonte.

“Natalie is so great to work with,” Gravelin said about one of the sophomore pieces, “Common Heart.” “She’s so open to hearing all of our ideas…in the beginning it was a lot of listening to music, going across the floor and playing with movement. It was a lot of figuring out what the music makes your body do.”

Lomonte allowed her dancers to input their own choreography based on their explorations with the music. “She started the piece by asking us to make movement, so a lot of this choreography is based off what we did originally and then she put them all together. It was a really collaborative process,” Gravelin explained. Typically, the rehearsal process with many choreographers consists of learning prefixed movement. This was not so much the case when working with Lomonte. As Gravelin explained, “She didn’t really have set choreography where she said ‘OK this leg goes here, and let’s learn a phrase, and you’re in a line here and this is what you do’ so it was really built up together. Piece by piece, we started putting together little phrases.”

Lomonte’s openness translates into how “Common Heart” can be received by the audience. “A big theme in the piece is community. It’s about the celebration of community and family because that’s a really big thing in the Greek culture,” Gravelin said. Inspired by Greek culture, the three-section dance roots itself in Aphrodite’s gifts of joy, celebration and love. The piece is set to traditional Greek music and plays with gestures inspired by Greek statues.

The inventive rehearsal process was just one of several challenges as Lomonte had to leave the piece to her assistant to travel for another job. “We were sad when she had to leave for Abu Dhabi for another job,” Gravelin said. Lomonte left the piece to her rehearsal assistant, Whitney Sprayberry. “It worked out really well because there’s such a good balance between the two of them. Natalie is very open to everything, whereas Whitney is a very ‘clean, clean clean’ and ‘run it again’ kind of person.”

Gravelin explained how they would have Skype rehearsals with Lomonte from her hotel room in Abu Dhabi. “She was so invested in the piece and was so passionate which made it great for us…technology has played a really important role in the piece in terms of keeping us in touch with our choreographer.” The last few weeks of rehearsal, the dancers would run the piece in front of a camera for Lomonte to watch over video chat so she could continue to work on her piece.

Gravelin explained further about the difference between this year’s repertoire and her experience as a freshman working with Alvin Ailey dancer Kanji Segawa. “It was really incredible to see the difference between last year when some of us worked with Kanji and this year with Natalie. Last year, Kanji came in with set movement and he knew exactly what he was doing to every single count. That was great because it was our first experience working with someone like that.”

The two different rehearsal processes allowed the dancers to see how they’ve grown in the way they approach their work.  “Both experiences were really demanding in different ways…it was fascinating to see how much we grew as a class. Last year, a big focus was staying together, staying in line and being in the exact position at the exact count. It was really about sensing each other. And the same thing goes for this year too just in different ways because even though we’re not drilling having our arms in a specific line, it’s still about the idea of togetherness and being a whole,” Gravelin said.

Lomote’s rehearsals were an “exploratory way of doing a piece,” which posed a different kind of challenge from just picking up choreography. “For me personally, improv and generating new movement is a really big challenge, so I think that’s been the hardest…it pushed me to explore new movement. Natalie’s styles are very different. It’s kind of quirky and modern-based. I think the challenge of her moment on me was really good,” Gravelin said.

The show will take place in the Ailey CitiGroup Theater this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door. Catch Gravelin in “Common Heart” as well as the rest of the BFA dancers perform in this year’s Fall Concert.