Photo: Courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Photo: Courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Alvin Ailey Brings Spirit and Light to Kennedy Center

At 28 years old, Samantha Figgins carries a legacy through her body. The DC native comes from a family of dancers, descended from sharecroppers who migrated north from South Carolina in search of a better life and future. She’ll be telling the story of their blues on stage beginning February 6, as the legendary Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater takes over the Kennedy Center to perform 10 dynamic works, including two DC debuts and three new productions.

The Duke Ellington School of the Arts graduate has a busy week ahead of her, as she will be performing in seven of the 10 works, including one of the DC debuts, Members Don’t Get Weary, where she’ll be drawing inspiration from her family’s sharecropping roots.

Members Don’t Get Weary is a piece commenting on what it is to have the blues,” Figgins says. “What I think about personally in that piece is my family history; that was a major time period where it really embodied having the blues [and] going through all the racial injustices of the time.”

The piece is set to the music of legendary jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, and is choreographed by longtime Ailey member Jamar Roberts. Figgins calls Roberts’ choreography “challenging and captivating.” Requiring 10 dancers, Members Don’t Get Weary is Roberts’ first choreographic work with the company.

“Being able to touch on past struggles, bring in our modern day trials and tribulations [and] my blues that I have in my life and express that through my dancing is very cleansing,” Figgins says. “Ailey is here to lift your spirit, talk about the human experience and give us the inspiration to move forward in these troubling times that we’re in right now. Being in this company is a light in a dark world; it’s definitely a blessing.”

Figgins is most excited about DC audiences experiencing Shelter and Golden Section, as both are new productions. Shelter, choreographed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, was originally performed by the company in 1992, and speaks on the physical and emotional deprivation of homeless people. This revitalized production includes elements of spoken word, and highlights the effects of how climate change and other environmental issues have left people homeless.

“In the end, there’s always a light,” Figgins says when speaking about Shelter. “I’m thankful for this piece because it keeps me on top of the humanity that’s lacking sometimes in the world right now. It’s eye-opening.”

Golden Section is entirely unique. Choreographed by Tony Award winner Twyla Tharp, it is a piece that expresses pure, unbridled, unfiltered bliss.

Golden Section is about life and light, and all these dancers come onstage in golden leotards, being beautiful,” Figgins says. “Just something to brighten up the program and brighten up your day.”

This new, restaged work is set to new wave rock music by David Byrne, known best as the lead singer and guitarist of Talking Heads.

“I can’t believe I’m in this company sometimes,” a giddy Figgins says. “My 12-year-old self is very happy and proud. I never thought I would be here.”

Samantha’s journey to Alvin Ailey has gone full circle. As an adult, she works with some of the same dancers and choreographers that she grew up watching and admiring.

“It’s a lot to step into. It’s a difficult job, but at the end of the day, I’m dancing and I’m not even thinking I’m working. My body feels it but my spirit doesn’t, [and] I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”

Figgins truly has carved out a space for herself in Alvin Ailey and the dance world. Her career and life revolve around music and movement, a challenge considering that she has partial hearing loss. Making dance accessible to people who are hard of hearing is clearly a passion of hers, and in the future she wants to give back to this community.

“It’s one of those disabilities you can’t see, so people underestimate it and don’t give their energy to that. There’s a whole audience that’s missing out on the joy of dance. Dance is a form of expression, so when you have a form of hearing loss, your speech is affected through that. Your experiences are affected through that. Your expression is affected through that.”

Figgins exudes a joyful energy when she talks about her dance and her plans for the future. No doubt that she will mesmerize onstage, along with the other captivating Alvin Ailey performers.

Watch Figgins perform from February 6-11 in the Kennedy Center’s Opera House. Tickets start at $49. For more information on the Alvin Ailey performances, visit the Kennedy Center website here.

The John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

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Valeria Villarroel

Valeria Villarroel is a lover of good music, art, and food. Raised in Boston, Valeria has made Washington, DC her home since 2011. Valeria works as a video editor and freelance digital strategist, writer and social media editor for publications and businesses in the DC area. She loves comic book movies, dogs, politics, pop culture, vintage rhythm & blues, posing for impromptu fashion shoots in the middle of the sidewalk, and always leaves her coffee on the kitchen counter before heading out. You can see more of her work at www.itsvalerious.com, and you can follow her on all social media @itsvalerious.