Top drawer

Top drawer

This is Dwanna Smallwood’s launch moment, the Alvin Ailey American Dance publicity machine is making sure of that. Thirty-three and this year’s poster girl, Smallwood just got a spread in Vogue, the one with Scarlett Johansson on the cover. Pretty big deal, not to mention that Annie Leibovitz shot it. Now, after 12 years, the company has her shedding glamour on out-of-town press.

Soaring with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dwanna Smallwood nabbed four pages in Vogue this month. The company scores two nights in Charlottesville, April 9 and 10.

As a member of the aforementioned corps, I had an interview with her last Wednesday afternoon. We covered the well-trod ground of dance interviews: How do you make an old dance your own; what inspires you outside of your art; what do you do on your day off. 1) “I make it a point never to be stale.” 2) Religion. 3) Hit the gym and look for the yarn stores because she’s a crocheter. (This point is relevant as the company plays for two nights, Monday, April 9 and again, on the 10th, meaning you might catch Smallwood browsing in The Needle Lady, across the street from the Paramount, where the company will play).
Standard-issue stuff until I asked her about future ambitions. To be recognized as a pantiologist. That’s her word. Pantiologist. Which, in itself could be a pretty big deal, too, she figures, as she steels herself for the June publication of her “pocket panty pamphlet.” She informs me, with what over the phone sounds like a straight face, that it “will shock the nation.”

She volunteers as to how she is well known for checking out people’s butts. Been doing it for years. Looking at panty lines, too. The star of the pamphlet, a fable, is one Dawn Delicious Douglas who has a shockingly embarrassing moment in reference to her bloomers. Though I wonder if we really are a nation capable of being shocked any longer by an underwear story, still I toss out a few terms—thong, boy short. (Damndest dance interview I’ve ever done.) Smallwood has a response.

“It’s appropriate to wear thongs but you don’t always have to wear a thong to get rid of a panty line. I advocate knowing your size, investigating the fabric of the panty and the fabric of your garments.”

Getting back to her day job, Smallwood will dance in “Pas de Duke” and “Revelations.” Across the two days they’re in town, the company will do “Night Creature,” “Acceptance in Surrender” and “Love Stories,” too.  Smallwood wisely describes Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as a “dance company of an African-American man,” (now deceased) rather than an African-American dance company. For generations, the company has been reliable in putting on high energy, revitalizing, technically excellent shows. Go on Monday night and, if you like what you see, try to catch up with Smallwood Downtown and tell her. Chances are good that once she finishes with the yarn shop, she’ll be checking out the news in the drawers department. Derriere de Soie, anyone?

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at 7:30pm on Monday, April 9, and at 8pm on Tuesday, April 10, at The Paramount Theater. Tickets are $25-60.