A light shone dimly on the lone, lithe woman dancing in the center of the stage

Ailey II
San Angelo Standar-Times

By Becca Nelson Sankey

A light shone dimly on the lone, lithe woman dancing in the center of the stage.

Slowly, a man joined her, his body moving in time to the music pulsing through the building. Six more dancers floated onto the stage, their collective shadows casting ethereal shadows on the walls of the City Auditorium.

The pace of the music quickened, and eight pairs of legs and arms answered in swift fluidity, their nonstop movements a stark contrast to the stillness in the audience. On and off the stage they trickled, sometimes dancing in pairs, sometimes in threes, and sometimes alone, yet all part of the same changing picture.
And that was just the first performance.

Ailey II, a professional modern dance troupe from New York City, attracted community members in droves to its Sunday night performance. The event was made possible by the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts’ Beverly and Ben Stribling Special Exhibition Trust and the San Angelo Civic Ballet.

The turnout didn’t come as a surprise to SAMFA Director Howard Taylor, who on Friday afternoon was anticipating a sellout.

“I think this is going to be something very special and wonderful for the community,” Taylor said. “I think this is one of the most important performance groups we’ve had in San Angelo in probably a decade — maybe longer.”

People attended the performance expecting excellence, said Meghann Bridgeman, director of the San Angelo Civic Ballet.

“The people who are going are either educated in dance already... or they have seen the reputation of Alvin Ailey and are excited to have high-quality dancers in our community,” she said. “It’s an event that really has involved new audience members and exposed a lot of people to the art form of dance. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Indeed, audience members Sunday night represented every age, background and race.

“You just look around, and you’ve got Anglo, black, Hispanic (people)... just multicultural,” said event attendee Richard Easingwood during intermission.

Audience members even varied in the clothing they wore, he added, with some dressed in gowns and suits, and others in bluejeans.

“That’s West Texas,” Easingwood said. “This is really neat.”

Phyllis J. Jones attended with her mother, Ella Mae Johnson. Their reactions after the first performance were of mutual awe.

“It’s just amazing, fabulous,” Jones said. “This is an exciting cultural event that I think should occur every year in San Angelo.”

Garland Freeze, president of the local NAACP, echoed his own amazement at the dancers’ talent.

“They make it tough on the audience because they’re so good,” he said. “So much is going on (that) you have to concentrate on so much at one time.”

For sisters Emma Armstrong, 12, and Ellie, 9 — who are both dancers — watching a world-famous dance company is a dream come true.

“I can’t believe they actually came to San Angelo,” Emma said. “It’s awesome.”