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Ailey II Dancers Incite Spirited Student Dance-off

May 12, 2007 — Packed into the amphitheater at the Reichhold Center for the Arts, a few hundred students from across the St. Thomas-St. John district were treated on Friday with a range of ballet, jazz and modern dance pieces performed by members of the Ailey II Dance Company.
Sweeping across the theater's stage, the dancers, led by artistic director Troy Powell, wowed the students with their intricate step combinations and innovative pieces, designed to depict, among other things, an arranged marriage and a couple falling in love.
While the students did giggle during some of the more passionate dance scenes, they also kept their eyes glued to stage, waiting to see what the group would do next.
The fun did not end there, however, as Ailey II dancers asked the students to take part in a freestyle dance choreographed by company member Ephraim Sykes. Mixing hip-hop beats with a little bit of old school dancing, the students learned, in a matter of minutes, a fast-paced routine that took the entire group from one end of the stage to the other.
Sykes, taking advantage of the friendly school rivalries displayed on stage, further split the students up into two groups, organizing a dance-off that pit the competitive teens against each other.
"Uh oh, group one — group two is saying they're better than you," Sykes would say, pushing each group to really practice and learn the routine. Eventually, however, even Sykes had to take a back seat, as the students began to show off some of their own choreography, which ranged from quick-stepping to a well-balanced pirouette. A few of the younger girls also ended their routines with splits, which roused the audience and spurred bursts of cheering and applause.
"This whole thing was really great," said Tasida Kelch, special projects coordinator for the V.I. Council on the Arts. After the dances wrapped up, Kelch explained that the council frequently tries to organize special events for the students, sometimes using groups or artists brought down for the Reichhold's performance season.
"Whenever someone is willing to do a residence, meaning a special performance or class, we make sure to try to get the students involved," she said. "It's always a lot of fun, and the kids seem to have a great time."
The next event is planned on St. Thomas for May 24, when STEP Afrika!, another performance group featured at Reichhold, will be interacting with students at the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School. On St. Croix, a similar event will be held at Island Center on May 25 at 10 a.m.
Reichhold marketing manager Karen Gutloff said the events also help to give students a look at future career opportunities. "It's really an eye-opening experience for them," she said. "In a case like this, for example, they really get to see the possibilities that exist for a career in dance, and what they can do if they put their mind to it."
Ailey II, which is based in New York, will also do a full-length feature performance at Reichhold on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Gutloff, who explained that tickets have been selling quickly for the show, added that the group will be rounding off one of the center's most successful seasons, which featured such acts as Kool and the Gang, Morgan Heritage and the multi-talented Savion Glover.
"In terms of feedback from the community, what we've been hearing is that everyone has really enjoyed listening to everything from the jazz performances to the R&B," she said. "And it really has been an outstanding season, we've had great artists and have been able to continuously fill the theater. It's been wonderful."
For more information in the Reichhold Center's upcoming performances, visit their website or call 693-1559 for tickets.
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