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Lawrence native Belen Pereyra returns to Boston in Alvin Ailey masterpiece

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Lawrence native Belen Pereyra returns to Boston in Alvin Ailey masterpiece
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Belen Pereyra and Yannick Lebrun in Paul Taylor’s “Piazzolla Caldera,” which is one of the works coming to Boston in March). (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

I think if we do these outreach programs and we do it with all of our hearts and as honest and authentic as possible, and we share the legacy of Mr. Ailey and his vision, I feel like there’s this silent delivery across all these schools, and all these children — of hope, and of love, and of confidence, and beauty, and harmony, and humanity, and sharing. And it’s really a beautiful thing that could cause them to make one different decision in their life,” says Alvin Ailey dancer Belen Pereyra on what inspires her to give back to the next generation of dancers.

The Dominican-born dancer, who grew up in the “bubble of the Hispanic community” in Lawrence, Mass., experienced the joy of singing and dancing and discovering different Latin American countries every summer during what was called “Semana Hispana” or Hispanic Week. “It was so magical, the experience, because the entire week we celebrated every night a different Latin American country, so I was able to experience so many different varieties of dance styles, music and culture,” recalls Pereyra of one of her fondest memories of growing up in her hometown.

Pereyra, who began her formal dance training at the Boston Arts Academy, joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011 and is a featured dancer in all of the Ailey premieres this season. She is set to perform in several works when the world-renowned dance troupe returns to Boston March 17-20 at the Citi Performing Arts Center as part of the 45th presentation by the Celebrity Series of Boston.

She spoke to the Banner by phone earlier this month about the upcoming Boston premieres and performances, and what motivates her to continue dancing professionally.

What’s been one of the biggest challenges for you professionally?

Belen Pereyra: I think believing in myself was the hardest challenge. The most difficult part of it is because we all have that voice. That little scared voice inside that will continue to show you examples of how you’re not good enough. It was ignoring that voice. And it worked out because it actually gave me strength. At the end of the day, I think it makes me an artist that can tap into all those energies, all that fear I went through, and I could use it on stage. That’s a lifetime practice, to learn how to even make friends with that part of you, that scared side of you. That was a challenge to go through all these scary phases and convince myself and really believe in myself that ‘I can do it’ even though there was a little voice, a little energy inside me, that doubted it.

You were in Boston last month conducting workshops at several schools in the area. Why is it important for you to give back?

BP: It’s extremely important for me because I believe that these types of outreach activities were the ones that sparked home in me in what I called the “dark ages” of my life. I remember having Alvin Ailey do outreach at OrigiNation [Cultural Arts Center] where I was dancing, and where I was afraid to pursue this goal. Just a glimpse of the joy I saw in their eyes and how powerful and how beautiful they were, it was inspiring. It’s really powerful the impact you create, however small it is. You don’t know whose life you’re changing.

On the web

The Celebrity Series of Boston presents the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from March 17-20 at Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre, located at 270 Tremont Street in Boston. Tickets start at $35, and are available online at www.celebrityseries.org, by calling Citi Charge at 800.982.2787, or at the Citi Wang Theatre box office at 270 Tremont Street.

It’s my understanding that there will be a Boston premiere of works by Artistic Director Robert Battle and several other choreographers. Can you describe what some of those performances are?

BP: The world premieres include “Awakening” by Robert Battle. It’s a visually interesting piece. The lighting is exceptional and the patterns that Mr. Battle creates on stage are absolutely beautiful. It’s hard to describe that story but it’s like a leader is born in the midst of chaos. It’s a very strong piece to watch. I say to people ‘to walk in with an open mind’ because they’re not going to see your typical Ailey Company. I think Mr. Battle is definitely pushing us in a new direction, and it’s refreshing. It kind of tests the boundaries of us as dancers, but also as the audience members, to expand their minds on what they expect us doing.

We’re also doing “Exodus” by Rennie Harris, which is a hip hop piece, well, it’s more house and that one’s a lot of fun; also a very beautiful, powerful piece. We have “Open Door” by Ronald K. Brown. That one has a twist on the Latin feel along with his usual West African influences—always an awesome choreographer to work with. We’re also bringing back some of Mr. Ailey’s classics like “Cry” and “Love Songs.” “Cry” is a woman’s solo originally choreographed on Judith Jamison and it’s a masterpiece. It’s just beautiful. “Love Songs” was choreographed for the late Dudley Williams.

Everything is going to be so beautiful. You’re going to be on a journey no matter what night you come. There will be so many different levels going through you. I’m very proud to be a part of this company and to be associated with such exceptional artists. We really just bare ourselves on stage, and so you’re going to see nothing but honesty on stage, an ocean of different energies. It’s a powerful tour for sure.

What inspires and motivates you to keep dancing?

BP: You know that’s a good question. That’s why I really think it’s beyond me. I feel that the amount of work I put in to what I do, it’s almost like I don’t choose it. I feel like that the same energy that fought all that way to get me to Ailey, even under all those really crazy constraints, is the same energy that’s driving me now. Even if this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done on earth, which it is, because it’s the most intense company around, there is this unexplainable energy, maybe you can call it the universe. I believe it’s guiding my path, and I just feel like my concentration is solely on this, of course, other than family and friends. But I feel like it’s my mission. This is a huge responsibility. It’s not just ‘I’m dancing to this fun.’ I feel like it’s a calling at this moment. I feel that it is my duty to fulfill it a hundred per cent and as pure as possible because I’m changing lives, and that’s how big I see it.