For 50 Years, Ailey II Has Been a Proving Ground

For 50 Years, Ailey II Has Been a Proving Ground

Terms in Ailey II are more like a two-year audition, since the director of the first company is often around. “They have the inside track,” Waters said. That often starts at the Ailey School or the Ailey/Fordham bachelor’s program. The Ailey Student Performance Group, sometimes known as Ailey III, was founded in 1984 and has endured in various forms since then; some of its members graduate into Ailey II. There are also apprentices, who learn multiple roles so they can step in when someone is injured. (Only since 2021 have apprentices been paid. Ailey II dancers are not unionized, unlike those of the main company, and the Ailey organization does not share information about compensation.)

Sometimes, advancement is accelerated. That happened to Yannick LeBrun, who was in his second year with Ailey II in 2007 when he was tapped to fill in for an injured dancer in the main company during its New York season. That was essentially his audition, and as soon as his term with Ailey II ended, he moved up, fulfilling the dream that had drawn him from his home in French Guiana. In 2019, he set a work of his own on Ailey II.

Not moving up is a disappointment, but not a career-ending one. Ailey II dancers have moved on to companies like Dance Theater of Harlem, the Martha Graham Dance Company, Philadanco and Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, as well as many Broadway shows.

Jasmine Guy, who was with Ailey II from 1980 to 1981, fell in love with the Ailey company the most common way: by seeing its signature work, “Revelations.” She decided not to audition for the main troupe, and because for her, no other company would do, she shifted into acting, starring in the sitcom “A Different World.” Her stint with Ailey II was “a magical time,” she said, that served as a foundation for the rest of her career.

“Everything I’ve done since, I thought, ‘What are you all complaining about?’” she said. “On TV, I couldn’t believe all the breaks you get. I was used to working a lot harder and longer.”

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