International Festival Q&A: Jacquelin Harris

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Jacquelin Harris, who joined the company in 2014, discusses their upcoming double bill at the EIF

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Jacquelin Harris
Photo by Dario Calmese
Published 15 Aug 2023

Tell me a little more about your show and what audiences can expect?

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is renowned for creating a visceral atmosphere for all audience members. It’s not just a performance that you watch, but that you also feel. There are two programmes, one with ballets by our founder Alvin Ailey and another programme featuring new voices. Each programme, through community, music and movement, transcends generations. Regardless of which programme you see, there is something that will inspire and bring joy.

Can you talk about some of the creative team involved?

The company is led by our Artistic Director Robert Battle, who brilliantly commissions the repertory and has invited each of the 32 dance artists to share on stage. Matthew Rushing, after an illustrious career with the company as a dancer, now shares his artistry and wisdom as our associate artistic director. The artistic team also consists of Ronni Favors and Clifton Brown, who both once danced with the company, Clifton as recently as two years ago and Ronni with Alvin Ailey himself.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your work, both in terms of creation and performance?

We have the privilege to share our personal and honest experiences. We use our humanity to dive into the stories of each work. We tap into our vulnerabilities but also equally our celebrations. There is an element of triumph over our struggles in each of the works that we perform.  

Looking at this production, how would you say it links to previous work personally and thematically?

I would say we dive into the exploration of human connection in each of our works. We use movement to portray and examine what it means to connect with each other and how support from community can affect change. 

What do you find special about this work and why do you think there’s still an appetite for it?

From Are You in Your Feelings? to Revelations, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater uses the songs and the vernacular of the African American culture to share the resilience, power and strength that lives inside all of us, and that we need more of everyday.

What would you like audiences to take away from seeing the company at EIF?

I hope audiences enjoy seeing not only the dancers of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but also their local emerging artists, especially in Memoria by Alvin Ailey. We are excited to share the stage with Scotland’s best and in doing so I believe we will continue Mr. Ailey’s legacy of knowing that dance unites, uplifts, and inspires everyone!

Do you tend to take inspiration from events happening in the world around you in terms of your work? Do you think artists have a responsibility to respond to what's happening?

Absolutely! As the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has been around for over 60 years, the work has been around for just as long. Mr. Ailey left an indelible legacy because his work is timeless. He captured the human experience so gracefully that as the world changes and evolves as does the work and the people in it. 

How do you feel about the current arts landscape in your country and your part in it? Does it excite you and inspire you to keep pushing the boat out?

While there is a lot of progression, there is still a lot of blind ignorance. The Ailey Company is using this platform, as it has done since the Civil Rights Era, to bring to light those that often have to live in the dark. By sharing these stories on the mainstage, we are allowing everyone to be seen as human and respected for their contributions to life. 

Why are arts festivals such as EIF so important for international exchange?

It is an opportunity for companies from all over the world to reintroduce themselves to the local community and to remind us all that the world is our “oyster,” and no dream is impossible. It is also an opportunity for companies from all over the world to learn and celebrate local culture.

What can the wider arts community do to get more people involved in their specific disciplines? 

I think the more accessible we make our art, the more people will not only become more interested but also more invested. My favorite part about being in the Ailey organisation is being able offer outreach and go into different communities to teach dance to artists of any age and any level. I get the opportunity to see the joy and release that everyone can enjoy through dance.

What’s next for you and how are you feeling about the future in general?

I am excited to perform at this festival to kick off our 2023 international tour. From here, we head to London, Copenhagen and Tel Aviv before returning to NYC for our New York City Center season in December. I am looking forward to dancing with the local artists in Edinburgh, visiting countries and cities to which I have never been, and diving into the work and artistic challenges of the new season.

How can Edinburgh audiences keep up with you beyond the festival?

Please follow me and the company on Instagram. Audiences can look for me on any stage featuring the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater!