Feature photo: Ailey II’s Christopher R. Wilson. Photo by Kyle Froman.
Meet Alvin Ailey’s Christopher Wilson, an Augusta native returning home to perform on the Fox Theatre stage.
From February 21 – 24, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre will perform at the Fox Theatre in celebration of its 60th anniversary.
By Julie Bookman
Thirteen years ago, when Christopher R. Wilson was 10, he traveled from his Augusta home to see his first-ever Fox Theatre performance. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was on stage. Christopher had never seen a professional dance performance and had only recently started taking dance lessons. He was mesmerized. “I felt like I was seeing superheroes who looked like me literally flying across the stage,” he says. “I had this powerful feeling that told me ‘I’ll be doing this someday.’”
Before this trip to Atlanta, Christopher had enrolled in a performing arts summer camp and caught the eye of Russell Joel Brown, an Augusta native who’d been in The Lion King on Broadway and on a national tour. It was Brown who originally encouraged Christopher’s mom to seek out dance lessons for him. Christopher became more serious about dance while attending Augusta’s John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School. At 16, he earned a spot at the Georgia Governor’s Honors summer residential program. While there, he learned about Alvin Ailey’s educational outreach and training program. “That’s when I saw the path,” he says. “That summer, I saw that it could be real for me. I told myself, ‘I’m going to get there, and I won’t stop until it happens.’”
Oh, it happened.
Finding the right essence
By the time Christopher graduated from Fordham University as a dance major on an Ailey-connected track, he was a company member of Ailey II. Now 23, he’s among the Ailey superheroes visiting the Fox Theatre with a program that honors its namesake founder and its 60-year history. The company performs six times in Atlanta, with each performance featuring one of three programs. All close with Revelations, the rousing gospel ballet that dates to 1960. You may see Christopher as Sinner Man; it’s one of myriad roles he’s learned in recent months. “Sinner Man is a rite of passage,” says Ailey artistic director Robert Battle. “At some point, all of the men do Sinner Man. At some point, they all do each and every part — that just goes with the territory.”
For Christopher, Ailey’s large and varied repertoire brought about the biggest crash course of his life. “It’s a rush,” he says.
He first had to prepare for the company’s traditional New York City holiday season (39 performances in five weeks). The Atlanta performances include pieces danced during that run, including Lazarus, a new full-length ballet from dancer, choreographer and hip-hop artist Rennie Harris, Ronald K. Brown’s The Call and Battle’s Juba, among other pieces.
Christopher’s challenge on stage? “You have dancers alongside you who have been there for years and years. You want to look as though you have been doing it for years and years as well.”
There’s more to it than the beats, the steps and the counts, Christopher says. “It’s also about finding the right essence of the material so that you’re really rooted in the ballet, just like those who have been doing it forever.”
A beautiful mover
In any given year, as many as 200 dancers audition for one or two Ailey openings. Christopher’s audition in May was his third.
News that he’d made the main company spread like wildfire in Augusta, thanks to his mom. He calls her the ‘Queen of Facebook.’ Christopher is aware of the sacrifices she made so that he could pursue his dream. “I think it starts with the sacrifices that she made, taking me back and forth to dance classes, not to mention basketball practice and cello rehearsals.”
Battle says Christopher shows “a wonderful facility, a wonderful technique, but something more, too. He has a sincerity about his performance and his work ethic, which means that he will continue to grow as an artist. He’s really a beautiful mover. He has a very natural gift, in that it doesn’t seem forced. He has to dance. It’s very much a part of who he is. I felt that in the audition, which is one of the reasons I hired him.” It seems that Christopher fits in neatly with the celebrated company.
In the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, there aren’t singular star performers. It’s more like a constellation of superb and breathtaking dancers. You might call them superheroes.