First person: I was invited onstage with Alvin Ailey Dance Company

Editor’s note: this once-in-a-lifetime account comes to State of the Arts from Meggan Ellingboe, who works for MPR’s The Daily Circuit.

I’m still in a silly aftershock of excitement and wander at what happened last night. I’m having trouble picking out the words to describe the surreal moment that will honestly be one of the best moments in my life.

Clips from Alvin Ailey’s performance of Minus 16

For the past two nights, my favorite dance company and American cultural icon, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, performed at the Orpheum Theater as part of Northrop’s dance season. New Artistic Director Robert Battle was in MPR’s studio for an afternoon interview where he described new works to be performed, such as the one performed last night, Minus 16 ,by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. I was instantly inspired to attend night two though I had gone the previous night.

Minus 16 premiered in 1999, but I have not heard much about it. Boy I’m glad I didn’t read anything about it before last night! I ran into a new acquaintance during intermission before the company performed and all she said was, “You’re in for a surprise.”

Lights flickered signaling it was time for Minus 16. I knew we’d be in for something unexpected when one dancer seemed like he was clowning around on stage, responding/adapting to the audience cheers. The piece continued as everyone sat; I was in the moment of watching, appreciating and interpreting what was happening on stage. Then my curiosity arose as the house lights came back on, the music continued to vibrate but the dancers started to move into the audience. Everyone was entranced wondering what was going to happen. A few minutes went by as we all continued clapping cheering… waiting. Somehow, I noticed a couple audience members up on stage dancing with the dancers. “Wait, what?” I started clapping wildly at this improv moment. “Let’s cheer them on!” I thought.

Suddenly, a dancer sidles next to my seat and held out his hand to me. A brief pause of “OMG, this is happening?!” preceded my dreamlike state of getting out of my seat. Like a giddy school girl, I nervously smiled as the dancer led me on stage with the rest of the party. After some seconds of what standing wondering what I should do, I began dancing, shaking my limbs, along with everyone else. My partner kept a straight face the entire time making intense eye contact with me; I kept that silly grin on my face as I moved. I started responding to his movements. “Should I copy or react?” At one time, I dumbly blurted out, “You guys are my favorite!” His face kept straight; we kept dancing frenetically, reacting to each other, talking to each other with movement only. It was like being in a club with your best friends just goofing around with such joy and zero inhibitions.

My partner’s eye contact kept me in the moment where no worries of how foolish I must look crept into conscience. However, I slowly realized I was the only audience member left on stage being tightly held by partner like we were the last two dancers on earth, enjoying something special before the unknown. Moments after this realization, all the Ailey dancers were on the floor, lying down on their backs like they were dead. I was left standing. I stood in the position the dancer had taken on the floor. The bright stage lights weren’t dimming and I didn’t want to ruin their piece! So I just stood there trying to process what to do next. Finally, a dancer mouthed up to me that I could leave the stage. “Phew!” I did my best to smoothly exit really not wanting to ruin the piece. But the crew made me exit off the stage in front of everyone with as spotlight followed me back to my seat. I heard audience clapping and could feel that hot light but it all felt like this incredible dream.

During intermission, strangers came up to me asking me if I was a plant or part of the show. “No! It was random. I didn’t know what to do,” I giggled. The strangers nicely said I did great and that I was brave. But all I kept thinking was, “Wow! Did that just happen?! Oh my gosh. I got to dance with my favorite company. I got to dance with AILEY!”

Now if only I could find my dance teacher who introduced us to the Alvin Ailey company and story to share my excitement with her…


Meggan Ellingboe

MPR Photo/Stephanie Curtis

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