Sarah DaleyThis summer began my 6th season as a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It still sounds surreal when I say it aloud, especially when contemplating my relationship with the Auditorium Theatre, the first and only place I saw the company perform. I grew up in a few different suburbs of Chicago and the city was always a treat to go to, a hub of culture and diversity. Every building seemed huge and every person was interesting to me. When my path to a career in dance began to take shape, I started to take trips with my dance studio to the Auditorium Theatre to see the latest visiting companies.

Our excursions to the theatre were epic. Along with our moms and dance teachers, we’d plan months ahead and chip in to rent a limo to take us into the city for a night at the ballet. We’d meet at the studio, everyone in their very best and hopped up with excitement, and spend the whole ride speculating about what was to come. The theatre at night among the city lights was always an impressive site. We’d get our tickets, spend some time roaming the lobby feeling cultured and sophisticated, and then find our seats. I always remember the sound of the ushers sliding the curtains closed – it meant we were about to be transported.

Seeing Ailey at the Auditorium was an eye-opening experience and after the first time, it was an annual trip. I was so in awe because it was my first introduction to a modern dance company and something about it drew and intrigued me. I had studied most seriously in ballet up to that point, but as I learned more about modern dance, it felt like a world that I could belong to. Whenever I’d see the company perform, I’d be struck by how much it felt as though I was being let in, getting a glimpse of who the dancers were as people as well as artists.

Being a member of the company and literally being on the other side of the curtain, in a venue that has meaning to me, is very moving. I love that I’ve seen so many different sides of the theatre from the front of house, to backstage, to dressing rooms and studios. There’s a reverence that I have for the stage at the Auditorium because of what I’ve seen as an audience member. It’s inspiring to think about the possibility of my performance resonating with young dancers just as other performers resonated with me. Coming to Chicago every year means a chance for me to see my family and dance teachers and to perform for them, which makes me feel proud. I wouldn’t be where I am without them, so I’m always grateful for the chance.

This season, along with many favorite classics, we are premiering a wide range of new works. From Kyle Abraham’s Untitled America to Johan Inger’s Walking Mad to Hope Boykin’s R-Evolution Dream, the choreography is dynamic and meaningful. I think these three works especially will touch audiences in a way that sparks many different discussions. I’m excited to bring that to Chicago and our audiences at the Auditorium Theatre.