Columbus Makes Art Presents: Alexis Wilson on a Life in Dance and Working in Columbus
Alexis Wilson has had a distinguished and varied career in dance. She is the daughter of Billy Wilson, a celebrated Broadway choreographer and her mother, who was a prima ballerina. She’s performed classically and commercially all over the world, and she has written and published poetry, a full length musical and a memoir, Not So Black and White. She now lives and works in Columbus, where she will be the guest speaker at the OhioDance Festival on April 28-30, 2017 held at BalletMet Columbus. Jane D’Angelo, executive director of OhioDance, recently sat down with Alexis Wilson for a Q & A.
Jane: Can you tell me something about your career before coming to Ohio?
Alexis: I was in between careers before we moved to Columbus. In 1991 I stopped dancing. After my father died in 1994 I knew I wanted to write his biography but it morphed into my memoir, Not So Black and White about my life growing up with him. When we moved to Columbus my daughters were six and three. In 2012 I finished the book.
Jane: When did you begin dancing? How did you become serious about dance?
Alexis: Both my parents were dancers. They would carry me in a basket while they taught class but I didn’t become serious until age 11, when my parents divorced and my brother and I moved to New York City to live with my father. I started at the New York School of Ballet and studied with Richard Thomas and his wife Barbara Fallis. When I was 13, my godfather the co-founder of the Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH), Karel Shook said to my father that I should come to DTH. DTH broadened my opportunity as a young girl of color in classical ballet. At the time, I was the youngest apprentice to the company.
I didn’t have the average teenage life. I went to PCS (Professional Children’s School). I would go to school for half an hour or so then jump on the subway up to Harlem to DTH for the rest of the day. When I was 16 we moved from Manhattan to New Jersey. I stopped dancing for almost two years. I started to do commercial work and gradually began dancing again. In my last year of high school I was hired by choreographer George Faison as a dancer in the movie The Cotton Club, directed by Francis Ford-Coppola.
Jane: What brought you to Columbus?
Alexis: My husband, Byron Stripling, was offered artistic director of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra. We were living in New York and it was shortly after 9/11. The lifestyle seemed easier in Columbus. We wanted a life less expensive but with a nice existence for our two young children. We moved in 2003 and have enjoyed being part of an emerging arts community.
Jane: You and Byron have worked together in Columbus, can you tell me something about that?
Alexis: Soon after our move here we wanted to acknowledge unsung heroes in the community so we chose five awardees and had a wonderful one night event. A few years ago we had two evening performances of A Concert to End Homelessness, partnering with the Community Shelter Board. CJO performed, I helped produce it, directed it, choreographed and wrote monologues for the production.
Jane: What projects you are working on now?
Alexis: I was recently associate choreographer to John Fredo, putting on Sophisticated Ladies in Buffalo, NY. I am writing a book with my daughters, I provide a service working one-on-one with other writers and their personal stories and I’m adapting my book into a musical for Broadway.
Jane: What are your greatest achievements?
Alexis: I am most proud of my two daughters. I also did a memorial for my father at St. John the Divine in New York City that I was very proud of with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theatre of Harlem on stage together. I was proud of the book launches I created: one in Columbus and one in New York.
Jane: Can you give us a glimpse of your class at the festival?
Alexis: I will create a class fusing words with movement. For part of the class I will share how I have come to work with this type of collaboration. It will be something new created just for the festival.
OhioDance invites you to attend/and or volunteer the OhioDance Festival April 28-30, 2017 and performances at BalletMet, 322 Mt. Vernon Ave., Columbus, OH 43215. Please call or email us for discounted tickets at [email protected] or 614-224-2913 (mention Columbus Underground). For more information, visit ohiodance.org.
Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at how #artmakescbus.