Pilates, Yoga and Ailey: The New Year’s Resolve

Main image (The dream team Alicia Graf Mack and Jamar Roberts in “Petite Mort” photo by Paul Kolnik)

I never trained nor danced like these performers, yet I felt every bend, breath and preparatory move; that of the young and the old. I literally saw the practiced movements of my Yoga and Pilates work gracefully and rhythmically choreographed to Ellington, Mozart, and African water drum beats.
Image-1-300x225I witnessed the grounding of yoga warrior poses, the lift and openness of an untold number of arabesques. In addition to the oblique twist and rotation exacted of a Mat spinal twist or Reformer Snake and Twist and I felt the exhilaration of a heart opening, swan diving back-bend as shown below by Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish (55 yrs) and Jamar Roberts (31) in their practice for the evening’s performance of “Fix Me Jesus” in Alvin Ailey’s signature piece “Revelations.”
I was drawn immediately to purchase tickets to the New Year’s Eve performance as a result of a NYT article and Ms. Roxas-Dobrish’s profile for a “one-time only” performance by several alumni of the Alvin Ailey Company. My sister and I couldn’t think of anything better we wanted or should be doing – as two 50+ African-American women, than watching the graceful movements of these particular dancers.
Elizabeth had me and Ailey had my ticket money when I read of her preparation plan as reported in Sarah Lyall’s, New York Times, December 25, 2013 article:

“She enlisted the help of a physical therapist, a massage therapist and an acupuncturist; she tweaked her diet; she stepped up her Pilates; and she started going to class again. She began to see the dance from a new perspective, not just as a showcase for technique but as an expression of “all the things that life has put into you.”

While many practitioners and teachers in the Pilates and Yoga community may come from a background, experience or immersion in the discipline and artistry dance, I for one have not.  I have embraced Pilates and Yoga for the life and living that it keeps in my body. I practice what I preach and I use and recommend a massage therapist, acupuncturist, dietary adjustments and of course regular Pilates practice for anyone that asks or will listen to me. So I totally dug this quote. Not to mention the breathtakingly open Swan Dive in the image.
You better believe I sat enveloped in each gesture, kick extension and rotation in the performance of not only the alumni featured in the signature piece, “Revelations,” but from the entire company’s artful, rhythmic, movement expression of what felt like my Pilates and Yoga practice put to life and music.
Many of the moves oftentimes feel repetitive but it’s that repetitive move – perfectly executed – that brings us back time and again to witness it, feel it and experience it.
The execution of a fuller reach, a more expansive extension and higher kick grips one every time, leaving you to moan that sound of “hmphhh” under your breath. There were several of these moans – at least for me – that evening.
The opening performance of “Pas De Duke” with Alicia Graf Mack’s solo and her scintillating height and crisp gesture movements was the first one. I found myself bouncing a bit to Duke Ellington and when Alicia presented her solo, I moved to the front edge of my seat and was simply captured by the precise angles, soft squaring of each step, twist and body positioning.
Alicia-Graf-Image2-300x169Ronald K. Brown’s “Four Corners” was absolute pure delight in angles and abstractionism. The troupe was moved by a particular sweet 8-minute african rhythm entitled “Da Na Ma (Manoo Remix” featuring the recognizable African water drum that I immediately put to use in a musical mix to move my TRX class two days later. I don’t teach my students to dance, but the rhythms of the music and the mental picture I have retained of the company changed my own personal workout the next day and therefore my energy with my students the following morning.
The moan and that sound of “hmphhh” continued through “Petit Mort” and its play with wandering swords and the sinewy, lean muscle of a few good men. The curves and lines of the dancers and the movements were breathtaking. This piece premiered with Ailey in 2012 and was one of my favorites of the evening. Choreographed by Czech-born, Jiri Kylian, it showcased the 6 ft tall, all power and energy, Jamar Roberts and again, the equally powerful, Alicia Graf Mack.
Alicia-Jamar-Petit-Mort-Image4-300x169Roberts also danced with Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish, in “Revelations” and lovingly referred to her as a delicate “jewel” rather than a “55 yr-old grandmother” that she feared he might consider her to be.
The silver at her temples was the mark of her crown, for there was no “granny in her steps” nor in that of any of the alumni for the evening.
Image-5.Dobrish-247x300“I Wanna Be Ready” was performed by Guillermo Asca, as a part of the classic “Revelations.” I saw, and deeply felt, a yoga “boat pose” and Pilates “Teaser” through his floor work. As an alumnus, he had a slight, visible girth in his middle, however, it didn’t stop his magnificence from shining through. Guillermo Asca and Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish were my favorites for their performances and executions during the evening; both were clearly filled with joy in delivery.
Dudley Williams and Donna Woods Sanders performed in Revelations 2013, as a part of “Rocka My Soul in the Bosum of Abraham.” Ms. Sanders was having the time of her life and an absolute ball being on the stage with the “yellow umbrella dance.” She underscored the fact that “movement matters – age doesn’t” with her joy for the evening. Both Dudley Williams and Donna Wood Sanders were my favorites for their enthusiasm and spirit.
My sister and I went for the reprise and the evening honor to the alumni dancers and I left with a refreshed spirit for the purpose and benefit of my own work in the practice of Pilates and Yoga.  No warrior pose will ever have the same meaning.  No Teaser will ever be half-heartedly executed.
The company and its performance gave me new meaning to finding joy in the preparation, the movement, the breath and the execution. These will be the sole drivers for the work in the year to come.

Post Author: Gina Jackson

Gina Jackson, Director/Owner, Pilates4Fitness Movement Space, West New York, NJ, has been teaching, coaching and training for more than thirteen years and loves the challenge of helping others find their center with Pilates. Certified by Power Pilates, New York, NY, you can connect with Gina via Twitter [http://www.twitter.com/pilates4fitness], Facebook [http://www.facebook.com/Pilates4Fitness.WestNewYork] and her website [http://www.pilates4fitness.com].