I first met Vernard Gilmore nearly 10 years ago. I was transferring from the crosstown L to the uptown R when I saw him staring down the track for signs of an uptown train. The look of determination on his face was startling. He seemed ready to jump down onto the track and put his ear on the rail so as to listen for subtle rumblings.
Mr. Gilmore had someplace to get to and, like most New Yorkers, he was opting for the express. That evening he was heading to take in, or rather, study, a performance of Alvin Ailey at the New York City Center. As we rode uptown together, I introduced myself. By 57th Street, I was an Alvin Ailey convert. Since that meeting, I have never missed an Ailey home season at City Center.
To watch Gilmore dance is to witness a lifetime of discipline in motion. His athletic prowess combined with his sensitivity as an artist is both inspiring and humbling. While he's devoted his entire career thus far to Alvin Aliey, Glimore transcends classification. He performs the Ailey classics with aplomb and adds his own personal flare to the fusion hip-hop and African dance-influenced choreography of Ronald K. Brown's "Grace." In addition to dancing, he teaches at the Ailey extension program and regularly attends student performances.
I recently caught up with my fellow commuter at New York City Center Stage. I spoke to him on his 30-minute break during his second rehearsal of the day.
Phil Smrek: I looked over your 2006 national tour schedule and you perform five times a week, have maybe two days off a week, not to mention all the travel in between, and that goes on from February until May. What's the secret to keeping up such a pace?
Vernard Glmore: The grace of God! You have to love what you do and have the desire. You just have to simply love it.
PS: What makes Alvin Ailey so unique?
VG : Alvin Ailey is about diversity, about sharing the experiences of so many different kinds of people. Any audience member should see themselves in the roles we perform. Everything we do is human.
PS: Is there a lot of drama and competitiveness among the dancers? Give us the inside scoop on dancing with the stars.
VG: Of course I don't want to lie, there's some ego tripping, but to me, that reads as insecurity and for the most part, we get past that and realize the bigger picture --and that is to dance. The way I see it, there are enough parts and praise to go around for all of us. I've come to realize that once you concentrate on yourself, you grow faster and can do more things.
PS: What are you favorite pieces in the Ailey repertoire?
VG: Anything choreographed by Ulysses Dove. To do his work creates a certain freedom I don't always feel when performing other choreography. His work just allows me to feel totally free. And of course "Revelations," choreographed by our founder.
PS: What's waiting in the wings after your performing days?
VG: I'd love to be an artistic director -- who knows, possibly with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
PS: Do you ever get butterflies before a performance?
VG: The thing I tell myself before every performance is the same thing. Alvin Ailey used to tell his dancers before a performance: "Remember the most unique thing in the world is you." If you can show yourself through these steps, that would be an extraordinary experience for the audience.
PS: If you could have a chat with Alvin Ailey what would you like to tell or ask him?
VG: What inspires you?
For a tour schedule and info on the Ailey extension program visit www.alvinailey.org.