There's a spiritual gusto to the works performed by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. It's part contemporary dance expressiveness, part African American cultural celebration, and part blues and gospel musical outbursts. And now, the famed company now features a small dose of Seattle-tinged flavor in the form of dancer Jeroboam Bozeman. After working under the direction of Donald Byrd at Spectrum Dance Theatre in 2012, the Brooklyn native Bozeman returned to New York to join Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as part of the company's youthful ensemble Ailey II. His combination of power and finesse soon earned a spot in main company. He'll dance back to Seattle this weekend (April 11–13) when Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at the Paramount Theater.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked with Bozeman about his love for Seattle, adapting to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and his military-focused plans for the future.
How has your time in Alvin Ailey Dance Theater been so far?
I will say being in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has been a dream come true. I’ve always fantasized about being a part of the organization. I always admired the dancers and the artists that are from there. I was in Ailey II first, under the direction of Troy Powell, and then the following year I auditioned and I was selected out of a few hundred men (to be in the main company). So far it has been incredible. I mean it is a dream come true. I will say that I thought it would be a lot easier. It’s pretty intense, but it’s amazing. Because it’s not just about being a dancer here, it’s about being an artist. You’re literally a cultural ambassador to the world.
What’s been the biggest challenge adjusting to the company?
I think for me right now, one of the biggest challenges is being able to adapt quickly and also being able to perform consistently and on a very high caliber. We perform frequently. We are currently in the middle of our tour of 23 cities. I wanna say this is probably performance 55 counting tonight (April 4), maybe 56, and the work is very physically demanding. As an artist and as a dancer you have to be able to know what your body needs to make sure that you’re efficient and able to make it through the entire tour.
With regards to this tour, aspects about the material you’re performing most invigorates you?
What I love about the material that I’m currently performing is that there’s such a wide range of rep that we dance. What has always been admirable about the company is the level of versatility that we have. Right now in our current rep that we’re doing on tour we have The River, which was originally choreographed by Mr. Alvin Ailey for the American Ballet Theater. That’s a beautiful ballet. I mean it is absolutely amazing. And then we do D-Man in the Waters, which was choreographed by Bill T. Jones, and that’s one of the premiere works for the company. There’s a new work from Aszure Barton that she choreographed just for the company. Of course Revelations, I mean that’s Mr. Ailey’s masterpiece. Everyone loves Revelations. I will also say one of my favorites that I really enjoyed performing is Chroma. That was choreographed by Wayne McGregor, and I believe it was originally choreographed for the Royal Ballet. That is just an amazing work. I mean the music is amazing. The set that the company performs on is beautiful. It’s an all white set, and it’s different because when you see the ballet and the curtain opens you’re kind of taken aback by the set and how bright it is.
What are you looking forward to on this return trip to Seattle?
The company is in Seattle from the 11th through the 13th, and after that we have a little break. And I have personally taken extra time to spend in Seattle because I love, love Seattle. When I was there working with Donald Byrd, I lived in Bellevue. I just enjoy Seattle: I love the atmosphere, I love geographically where it is on the map, I love the imagery, I love the people, it’s quiet, it’s calm, it’s amazing, and everyone is just so relaxed here and happy. I have a very close friend of mine who is in Seattle and I’m excited to reconnect with her and her family, and I also still have friends in Spectrum Dance Theater, so I’m excited to see them as well. Excited to walk around and be amongst the nature because there’s so many trees there. Excited to go to Capitol Hill and just be around there—it’s so trendy—I really enjoy that area. That’s all I can think of right now. I think that as it comes closer, I’ll become more overwhelmed with how much I want to see.
How did your time in Seattle influence your artistic outlook and approach?
So I have always been a fan of Donald Byrd. I believe he is an incredible choreographer. I call him a genius because he creates masterpieces and I love that he’s not afraid to push the envelope. He’s not afraid to think outside of the box and he doesn’t really focus on the perception of others. I think if he has an idea or something that he wants to say, that he wants to express, he doesn’t mind sharing that and he doesn’t mind it being different or it not being an orthodox ballet. And what I mean by orthodox is the classic safe things that I feel sometimes ballets may have. Like Romeo and Juliet. I think being with Donald, Mr. Byrd, it was just an incredible experience. It was for a short period of time, but it was so effective and I learned so much from him. He focused on being very direct and sometimes as artists we aren’t given the artistic liberty to explore movement. We’re usually saying, “Here’s the movement. Here’s the phrase. Here’s the count, do it on this.” But what I enjoyed about Mr. Byrd is that he allowed you to have a little bit of artistic liberty in saying, “Okay, here’s the phrase. Here’s the concrete information. Here’s the foundation to what it is. And I want you to manipulate it and shift it and try these things.” And then he gives you a moment to process what it is that you’re given and then allows you to put the vocabulary that he gives to you in your language, how you interpret it. And I think that was one of the greatest experiences, because it was almost like learning his stylistic way of doing things, but also it was a great experience to be exposed to something different other than what I was accustomed to doing at other repertory companies.
If you weren’t a dancer, is there another line of work you think you’d want to pursue?
That is such a funny question. So currently, I am pursuing a degree in psychology with a focus on industrial organization. I am currently an undergrad. The idea that I’ve created, this formula in my head, is within ten years I would have my Ph.D. and I would love to work for a private sector in the military. I think that people serving in the military, whether they be veterans or active military on duty, need attention. And what I mean by attention is that, I have a brother who was recently in the war in Afghanistan and when he came back he was slightly different; just a small nuance that let me know the things he was exposed to. I think when people come back from the war or when they experience things of that nature, it’s difficult for them to get acclimated back to civilization. They don’t know how to be amongst people. They have a lot of pains, a lot of built in anger or depression, and I feel like oftentimes they don’t feel comfortable enough to expose it just because when you work for the military it is very exclusive. Things that you have been exposed to or that you’ve seen is not something you see on a regular basis. So with the degree, I would love to assist in the military. Or even if it’s not in the military, my focus is just helping and healing people. I know through dance I get an opportunity to share my gift, but also I’ve always been fascinated with the mind and how it works and the behavior of people. And not being so be quick to judge but to try to understand why people act the way they do. That’s one of the things that I aspire to be as a psychologist.
So most of the time when the company is sleeping or when we’re having a break, I am usually studying in the back of the tour bus. (Laughs) Everybody’s lights are out as we travel to the next city, and I have my lights on. At the theater I have my books with me. I actually have my books sitting at my desk now because I’m getting ready to go complete some assignments. But that’s something I’m really excited about.
And that’s after of course my career as a professional dancer. I know also—as dancers—we have one of the shortest expectancies as far as career-wise, because that’s just based on physicality and whether or not you want to continue to do the strenuous work with your body. Ideally, I would love to say that I have fulfilled my career as a professional dancer, doing what I love, and not feel in a sense incomplete because I stopped dancing because I didn’t fulfill what it is I wanted to do or there was an injury that set me back. I want to be able to say, “Okay, I enjoyed what I did. I had an incredible time. This was an amazing ride, and now I’m ready to move forward to the next chapter of my life.” So that’s what I’m doing. I’m preparing for that next chapter. And even though its within the next handful of years, I think its better to invest now.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Apr 11–13, Paramount Theatre, $25–$71