When Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to perform at the Kennedy Center on the eve of its 50th anniversary, one of the 30 dancers in the company will know a large chunk of the audience.
Columbia native Alicia Graf says she can’t count the number of family and friends who will come to watch her dance with the company February 19 through 24. She also can’t guess at the number of times she’s visited the Kennedy Center in her lifetime, although she says she’s performed there six or seven times. This is Graf’s third time performing back home with Alvin Ailey.
“Performing in DC is always really special because it is my hometown,” says Graf. “I think it has one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. When I was younger, I saw Alvin Ailey perform at the Kennedy Center.”
That’s when Graf was a teenager enrolled in Columbia’s Ballet Royale under coach Donna Pidel. Every summer Graf would go to the school of the American Ballet in New York City. At 17, she moved to New York to perform with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Graf joined Ailey in 2005.
“I haven’t really seen my apartment much,” Graf says by phone as she’s about to depart for a tour stop in Florida. “But that’s what’s great about being a dancer or being an artist in general—it is rare that a person is so busy with what they love to do.”
Graf has busied herself learning the Ailey company modern-dance technique, which has roots in African-American culture. The repertoire combines hip-hop, ballet, and African dance among other forms.
Graf is most excited to perform two pieces for the Washington audience. One is a duet called “Unfold.” She says that the piece, conceived by Robert Battle, usually a frenetically fast choreographer, moves in poetic slow motion and as a result is taxing on the body. The five-foot-ten Graf also looks forward to dancing Ailey’s signature piece, “Revelations,” in each performance.
“I think everybody should see Alvin Ailey at least once a year,” says Graf. “It’s a dose of information, whether you are a dance lover or someone who has never seen dance in your life.”
Graf will take the stage Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, under the direction of Judith Jamison, beginning Tuesday, February 19. The seven performances culminate in a matinee on Sunday, February 24. For more information, visit kennedy-center.org.