RED WING — Ailey II, a company of young dancers in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater family, will perform "Revelations" and two other works Feb. 23 at the Sheldon Theatre.
It's a unique group, artistic director Troy Powell said, because the 12 dancers are the best young dance talent chosen from 2,500-plus students at the Alvin Ailey School.
Following the tradition established by founder Alvin Ailey, Powell hand-picked the dancers to give them a unique opportunity for learning what it is like to be a professional dancer, performing at a variety of venues and appreciating the work ethic that requires them to spent six to seven hours a day in training.
Touring year-around and performing in theaters large and small is a challenge for them.
Like the young men and women competing at the Olympics this month, the dancers put a tremendous amount of work and energy into their craft.
"It's just as hard as being an athlete," Powell said. "We have to be strong, very physical" — something dancers don't always get credit for being ‑ "and we have to be very graceful."
One member of the company trained to be a football player, but changed his career path to dance. "Dancing is just as much work, or even harder," he told the director.
Ailey II will perform three works at the Sheldon. The best known is "Revelations," which is danced to African-American spirituals, blues and gospel songs such as "Wade in the Water" and "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham."
Sheldon officials described it as "a seminal American work that has become a cultural treasure, beloved by generations of fans."
"It's a masterpiece," Powell agreed. "We treat it with dignity, respect. The message is clear. The message is expressed through our dance," which celebrates life, humanity and equality.
Choreographed by Alvin Ailey, it reflects his vision from growing up in Texas in the 1930s in poverty, during the Depression.
"He created a work that talks about those burdens and celebrates life," Powell said.
The Sheldon advised, "Prepare to cheer, sing along and dance in your seats."
That really does happen, Powell said. "They always do. It's the music" — the jazz, blues, spirituals and gospel songs Alvin Ailey loved. "You have no choice" but to clap, sway and move — something the dancers encourage.
"That's exactly what 'Revelations is about," Powell added — "feeling what the dancers feel, expressing themselves."
The other two pieces are very different. He described "Circular" as a soothing, contemporary ballet piece that circles back to human emotion. "Breaking Point" is an intense, cutting-edge piece in which the dancers think about something they really want in life but cannot attain.
"We're really excited to come to Red Wing," Powell said. "One of the things we try to do" in smaller communities, he added, "is we try to change lives, we try to change perspectives."
The 12 young dancers are very talented, he added. "They're hungry to express themselves. It's so rewarding for us. ... We hope people leave the theater thinking about their own lives."
Tickets to "Ailey II — The Next Generation of Dance" are $25-$30 for adults, $13 for students. As a Kids Play Free event, admission is free for a child under 14 with every paid adult admission. This is made possible through Noontime Kiwanis and the Jones Family Foundation.
For more information, contact the Sheldon at 651-388-8700 or www.sheldontheatre.org.