Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was founded in 1958 by dancer, choreographer and visionary Alvin Ailey, to bring African-American cultural expression and the American modern dance tradition to the world.
Alicia Graf Mack: Dancing for Alicia Keys' Set the World on Fire Tour
Posted by Content Manager, April 18, 2013 |
Thanks to a single phone call and fortuitous timing, Ailey dancer Alicia Graf Mack recently had the chance to participate in a video shoot for Alicia Keys’ current international tour. Ms. Mack, who can now be seen “performing” behind the R&B superstar at all of her shows, gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the shoot and explains why the experience means so much to her.
Getting the Call
My dance career has afforded me many amazing opportunities, and it always surprises me how the journey continues to unfold in new and unexpected ways. Recently, I had the chance to work on Alicia Keys' Set the World on Fire Tour. I have idolized Alicia Keys for many years – she is a soul singer who shares both my name and interracial background. Her roots are in classical music, which she has melded with sounds of R&B and hip-hop to create her unique style of music. In many ways, I feel that my own dance career has mirrored her musical development.
So, I was extremely excited when I recently received a call from the tour's artistic director, Luam Keflezgy. I met Luam over 10 years ago when I was a student at Columbia University and taking a hiatus from dancing. She had a very successful corporate marketing job in NYC but had dreams of becoming a choreographer. She eventually quit her job and never looked back. I have huge admiration for people who take risks to pursue their passions and take the path less chosen. Over the years, I have followed her rising star and found inspiration in her story.
Luam was looking for a contemporary dancer to film movement for a screen projection to play behind Alicia Keys on the set of her upcoming tour. I just so happened to have two days off before leaving for Ailey's own tour across the U.S., so I immediately agreed.
Preparation, Choreography, and Filming Surprises
Luam hired Wes Veldink, a brilliant NYC-based contemporary choreographer, who has an innate sense of energy, vulnerability and musicality. For our initial meeting, he and his assistant were equipped with a rough copy of Alicia Keys rehearsing the song "Like You'll Never See Me Again," along with a few ideas driven by Luam's artistic direction. Wes created the solo in only two hours and perfectly captured the mood and feeling of the song.
The next day, I showed up at a filming studio in Chelsea, NYC. To my surprise, I would be dancing in a green room on a very small, elevated platform. After hair and makeup, I stepped into a black Sansha tutu and a Dolce & Gabbana corset. I found an empty corner and did a full ballet barre hanging on to the back of a chair.
When it was my time to shoot, the videographer informed me that there would be no in-camera edits, so I had to perform the solo in its entirely without stopping. I reviewed my steps, figured out how to revise the movement to fit the confines of the space, and then prayed that I wouldn't fall off the platform! The foundation felt like rough cement, similar to the texture of a sidewalk, so it was very hard to turn with bare feet.
A Dream Come True
Regardless of the challenges, as soon as they started the music, I let the movement take over. Somewhere in the execution, I had a moment of clarity, realizing that I was fulfilling yet another dream. "Like You'll Never See Me Again" became a praise dance in its own right. There were a few hops and bobbles, but I managed to stay on the platform and we only had to do two takes of the dance. The film crew and artistic staff gave me a standing ovation and I left the studio on cloud nine.
Because I have been on tour with Ailey, I have not been able to see the film in person. In the YouTube clip from the Vancouver show though, the projection is so clear that it almost looks like I am performing right there on stage with Ms. Keys. Ever since the Set the World on Fire Tour debuted, I have been joking that I am touring with Alicia Keys and Alvin Ailey at the same time!
I hope to meet Alicia Keys one day to thank her for inspiring me with her music and allowing me to have yet another experience to color my already remarkable life.
Photos of Alicia Graf Mack filming on set by Wes Veldink. Directly above: Choreographer Wes Veldink, Alicia Graf Mack and Wes' choreographic assistant.