As choreographer Juan-Pablo Alba-Dennis heads to his final year at the Fordham/Ailey BFA program, he reminisces fondly on the past as he looks forward to the future. He said if someone had told him what he would have experienced over the last three years, he wouldn’t have believed it, and it’s all come as a shock.
Dennis said his Ailey experience has been all he hoped for and more. While he’s enjoying the academic aspect of the liberal arts program, the real value for him has been the many opportunities he has received to work with professionals in his field,
“I’m talking about people who choreograph with number one companies around the world and literally fly in to choreograph one piece and fly back out as soon as they finish mounting a piece. That kind of on-the-ground experience is really valuable.”
Juan-Pablo Alba Dennis
Dennis also appreciates the sense of family he has gained during his time at Ailey. “I think it’s the closest to home that I could ever have found outside of the Caribbean. You’re familiar with the teachers, the company that’s around all the time, the choreographers and the technical staff, etc, and there are opportunities to meet these people eye to eye, and really get that sense of what it’s all about. It’s not just about putting on a show and entertaining people, it’s about this grand scope. Part of the Ailey philosophy is to dance for the people and it’s for us to give back to the people. That’s a very similar mantra to what you hear in the Caribbean about culture, etc. It’s not that sort of inaccessible thing that you see from afar when it comes to home.”
During his journey, Dennis has been raising funds to be able to study abroad, as he has not received assistance from the States. He has been staging a concert series entitled “For the Love of Dance,” of which this will be the fourth edition. He said it feels like a bookend to his studies. “It’s the pivotal point where “For the Love of Dance” ends my funding career as an amateur dancer about to become a professional, as well as finishing this degree that was the inception of the whole idea behind the concert series. It’s all about returning to the beginning to continue, but there are some pieces that were in the first show that I brought back because I feel they are just as relevant at the end of the journey as they were at the beginning and it’s a reminder too, that this is done but there is more to be done.”
Dennis said the format has evolved from his previous concerts, with the addition of singing and spoken word poetry to the mainly dance program. “Creative Expressions Dance Company will be coming up from South and doing Latin ballroom dance. Metamorphosis Dance Company is performing one of my choreographies, I’m also bringing back another duet that I did with a member of Metamorphosis and I’m doing two new solos. Monique La Chapelle will be performing some of her own original music, Cherysh La Touche and Kevin Humphrey will be singing, and there will be spoken word by the 2 Cents Movement.”
He said one part of the concert he has enjoyed putting together is a jab at what it means to be an artist in the “real” world, where the debt collectors come calling after studying is done. “You start paying and there goes the artistry because I’m going to have to be hustling now or you get the day job because the artistry is not being fulfilled at the moment. Basically it’s a reflection on what it means to be an artist and provide something that’s literally intangible and immeasurable to society while suffering in the process, but having to kill your inner creative to still survive at times.” Dennis said this is probably the least emotionally heavy show he’s done, so the audience can sit back and enjoy even if they don’t want to engage with intense emotional stuff.
As Dennis looks toward the future, there are two things which engage his attention, other than thinking about how to pay back his massive student loans, which he is currently doing. The first is his own immediate future, in terms of finding employment. “I get a year after graduation to audition and try to secure a contract with a company. I’ll be doing a lot of auditions towards the end of the year so hopefully that can happen by the time I graduate. What I want next for myself is to be able to get that international experience and touring with a company, be it a company that’s based in New York that tours at a certain point in their season, or a company that’s somewhere else. I want the experience of being, living and existing as somebody in the Arts that only does the Arts, and then depending on where that takes me, I’d love to be on Broadway at some point, I’d love to choreograph and also build my repertoire more, but within a sustainable environment, that is like, choreographies and residencies and that sort of thing for months at a time.”
He also plans to expand the “For the Love of Dance” concert into a foundation to help other people who want to study abroad but cannot access the funds “so that there is an outlet specifically geared towards funding younger creatives, even if it’s just for a summer intensive or something like that, because I got those opportunities and I feel like those opportunities definitely have me where I am today and that’s what I want it to be.”
Dennis’ greatest lesson from his time at Ailey?
“I’ve learned to take myself more seriously and to really understand what I’m doing, versus just doing something that I love and really appreciating and having respect for it. Before, I was doing something that I loved and was passionate about it. Now it’s more of a place of understanding and appreciation on a deeper level where you could really just take in every little detail of something, as opposed to just the whole picture.”
Juan-Pablo Alba Dennis
For The Love of Dance 4 takes place on August 19 and 20, at the Little Carib Theatre, beginning at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $200 or $100 for students with ID. CLICK HERE to book online
For more information: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 475-5475.
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