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Flying High with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Michael Francis McBride (Photo by Richard Calmes)

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, recognized by U.S. Congress as a vital American “Cultural Ambassador to the World,” will inspire, entertain and electrify audiences from Thursday, February 22 through Sunday, February 25 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. Led by Miami native and Ailey’s Artistic Director Robert Battle, the highly anticipated Miami engagement is the only South Florida stop on the company’s 21-city North American tour.

Jamar Roberts, along with 31 of Ailey’s renowned dancers, will captivate audiences during five richly diverse programs featuring new works and company premieres by the world’s most celebrated dance-makers, and Alvin Ailey’s perennial crowd-pleasing masterpiece Revelations.

Two of their dancers: Michael McBride and Samuel Roberts both joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in June 2009, but they were at very different points in their careers: McBride was just finishing his junior year in the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, while Roberts was already 10 years into his career. They were paired as roommates on their first domestic tour with the company, yet they rarely spent time together, leading very separate social lives during their time off.

It wasn’t until two years later that they started to bond over the TV show Brothers and Sisters. Although one thing led to the next, the two kept their romantic relationship private from the company for another year.  But it’s definitely not a secret anymore.

When the couple sat down for dinner at their favorite local restaurant in January 2016, McBride had no idea what was in store. For almost a year, Roberts had plotted and choreographed a surprise proposal with over 40 friends and family, a world-class flash mob with dancers from both Ailey and Paul Taylor Dance Company.

It was a pleasure to sit down with Michael and Samuel for this Hotspots exclusive interview:

At what age did you begin dancing?

Samuel – I began dancing in the womb is what my mother told me, but I took my first official dance class at the age of 10. However, it was a family tradition that our Saturday evenings be spent listening to music while mom taught us the social dances of the 50’s & 60’s (ie. Lindy Hop, Jitter Bug, Swing etc…) We laughed and danced so hard!

Michael – I started dancing (tap and jazz) at age 8 at a local studio down the street from the house I grew up in.

What was your first professional/paid gig?

Samuel – Being the only black male dancer in about a 30 mile radius, in the Quakertown area, I almost immediately started getting paid to be in the regional Nutcrackers. I was also in a children’s performing group at the same time.  It’s so much easier for boys/men.

Michael – I was an assistant to one of my teachers in high school the summer before I went to college and I taught the “bounding boys” program while in college at the Ailey School. Those were teaching jobs. My first performing job was through Max Luna III a past Ailey dancer and a teacher I had at the Ailey School. I performed in a fundraising concert to raise money for the Philippines.

When did you know dance would be your career?

Samuel – I think it was very early on I knew I would be in the Arts & Entertainment Arena, but it wasn’t until I attended the Juilliard School Audition that I realized I could be a concert dancer.

Michael – I think I’ve always known that I am a performer at heart and it happens that dance has been my outlet to perform. I did not become serious about dance until college; going to the Ailey School was my first time at a conservatory – training all day, every day. I knew I loved dancing because I don’t think you could make it through the program if you didn’t love to dance. Long after my body doesn’t work I am sure I will have found a new outlet to perform – dance is my outlet now!

Alvin Ailey Dance Company has to be one of the ultimate goals for any dancer. How did it feel when you got the call that you were chosen?

Samuel – This may sound cliche, but it is true… surreal. I knew my life was about to change in ways I could not even imagine!

Michael – I cried—HARD. And screamed A LOT. I was at the end of my junior year of college, just happy to be invited to the audition, when Judith Jamison asked “Do you have a problem signing the contract?” I promptly asked while looking around the room “Are you for real?” I then made sure that I could still finish my degree before agreeing. I spent my first year in the company finishing my Bachelors of Fine Arts and actually flew home from tour to walk at graduation. It was a dream come true! And has remained an unbelievable experience since day 1. Performing for thousands while traveling all over the world, what could get better than that?

I finally had the pleasure of seeing an Alvin Ailey tour around two years ago in Broward, and I was an emotional mess (in a good way) at the end of the show. How emotional is it to dance every day with this company?

Samuel – Well, we travel about six months out of the year and have two NYC seasons. We are also responsible for about 30 ballets during any season. Needless to say, the demands on us are incredibly high.  I feel like a lot of that comes out in my dancing.

Michael – The history and legacy of Ailey is quite a heavy weight to carry on our shoulders as the dancers of the company, but provides great fulfillment emotionally! The thing that separates Ailey from other companies is the versatility of our repertoire going from classic modern, to contemporary ballet, to hip hop, and anywhere else in between. With that diversity each new ballet/piece provides new physical, mental, and emotional demands and we are always up for a challenge.

When you met each other, what did you think of the other one?

Samuel – I thought he was cute. GREEN, but very cute.

Michael – I don’t actually think we thought anything of each other. We were new co-workers that’s about it, at least for me.

At what point did you start developing feelings?

Samuel – During a platonic dinner date we had in the UK, shortly after Michael’s sister Erica’s passing.

Michael – It wasn’t until much after our work relationship started (summer 2009) that Samuel and I became closer friends (fall 2010), and then much after that did any romantic feelings develop (fall 2012).

When did you know he was the one?

Samuel – I knew he was the one after we had had several large disagreements and he was still there trying to work it out!

Michael – Shortly before the proposal I think is when I really knew/decided. We have a unique relationship that developed while we spent most of our time together (living and working together). Our relationship like any others comes with misunderstandings and disagreements but I think both Samuel and I act out of love first – only wanting the best for the other person. With that I know that we will do everything in our power to make sure our relationship is thriving. Communication is so important and he was a close friend of mine before romantic feelings began so talking about the hard stuff is never that hard.

Tell me three words that best describe your fiancé?

Samuel – Determined, Resourceful & Devilishly Handsome (I’m sorry, but his cuteness deserves two words)!!

Michael – Fervid, Unbridled, Ardent

Have you planned the wedding yet, and if so, do tell the details?

Samuel – We have a few details: the fall of 2019, outdoors and the Catskills, NY. After the flash mob, I relinquished all planning responsibilities.  This one is all Michael!

Michael – We bought an apartment this past summer, so a long engagement is following because we will be paying for our wedding ourselves. With that saidfFall 2019. Details to come.

What should the South Florida audiences expect from this tour of Alvin Ailey Dance Company?

Samuel – They should expect some great new works from two of their own hometown heroes Artistic Director: Mr. Robert Battle and Senior Company member: Mr. Jamar Roberts, as well as Revelations, Mr. Ailey’s Master Work.

Michael – Diversity and versatility! There is something for everyone. Please be sure to check out Talley Beatty’s “Stack Up” and Twyla Tharp’s “Golden Section” both pieces are feasts for the eyes and everyone will be sure to leave the theater smiling after seeing us perform them!

For more information on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater go to: AlvinAiley.org. To purchase tickets for their performances in Miami from Feb 22-25 go to ArshtCenter.org.

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