Alvin Ailey’s Khalia Campbell dances towards her dreams

Words by Katie Hagan

She joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater a year ago. Prior to this she was part of Ailey II, the younger version of AAADT famed for its global tours and roots in community outreach. She studied at the prestigious Dance Theatre of Harlem and, back in 2016, was in a Christian Dior advert for its scent, Poison. What an exciting time it is for the young, supremely talented dancer, Khalia Campbell.

In the middle of the company’s greatly-anticipated run at Sadler’s Wells, Khalia sits down with the dance art journal to discuss the cultural significance of Alvin Ailey and her future plans, imparting pearls of wisdom for fellow women of colour who want to make their dreams a firm reality.

Q: You’re one of Alvin Ailey’s latest members (congratulations!). Why and how does the company inspire you? 

A: Thank you so much! It is truly an honor to be in such a monumental company full of legacy. This company inspires me in numerous ways but what inspires me the most is the integrity the company has kept for 60 years! Mr. Ailey’s masterpiece Revelations, created in 1960, is still relevant to today’s society.

Alvin Ailey is a repertory company where I’m allowed to wear many different hats and express myself in different ways when I’m on stage. Dancing with the Ailey company allows me to tell stories, whether fictional or personal stories. Not to mention I get to dance alongside 31 other inspirational artists. This is what keeps me inspired daily.

Q: Culturally, socially and globally, how important is Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater? 

A: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is culturally, socially and globally important because of many things. One reason is because we are allowed the opportunity to perform many works. Many of the works are dedicated to what is happening today and what has happened previously. When the audience experience or see the works they are left changed through the dancers’ artistry and the choreographer’s imagination.

Through this collaboration we are able to get across a message that can brings forth knowledge and awareness about what’s going on. Then we can make a change.

When Alvin Ailey created his company he wanted a place where African Americans were celebrated, but was deeply rooted in unity. At that time African Americans were highly discriminated against and through this company he gave the dancers a voice.

Photo credit: Andrew Eccles

Ailey’s masterpiece Revelations is about his “blood memories” in the church growing up in Rogers, Texas. It speaks about the atrocities which the African American culture faced, and us rejoicing and overcoming it. People from all over can insert themselves in his work because of their life’s journey. He was very inclusive in this way.

Not only do we share onstage, but globally the Ailey umbrella dedicates itself to outreach, reaching out to schools and communities of all sorts. As in the words of Mr. Ailey: “Dance came from the people and should be delivered back to the people.”

Q: What advice could you give to dancers and artists who are women of color? 

A: For my women of color I don’t have any advice but words of encouragement. You matter. You are seen and heard. You are beautiful. You can do anything they can do. You’re important. Do not get discouraged. Go make and be the change! The little girls who aspire to be us are counting on us! We women of color have to unite!

Q: Who and what motivates you? 

A: First God and my family, whether it be my God-given family or my chosen family – they are what motivate me to be the person and artist I am destined to be. Secondly seeing my community in the Bronx, NY where the resources are limited and being able to achieve my plan on serving the community.

Q: What are your future plans? 

A: My future plans after Ailey are to continue my journey as an artist, appear on Broadway and maybe even movies. The plan I’m most invested in is creating my own foundation under the name of my late father Anthony Campbell. It will help the artists and non-artists who have limited resources the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is currently at Sadler’s Wells, London. See here for their programme details. You can find Khalia’s professional Instagram page by following this link. Header image: Andrew Eccles.