It's been said that it's not where people start that matters as much as where they finish.
In just a few years, the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, under the leadership of founding artistic director Greer Reed, has sprouted from a little-known dance troupe in Western Pennsylvania into a home for up-and-coming dancers starting to make a splash on the national arts scene.
"It's going well. We've gotten a lot of opportunities," said founding member Naila Ansari, referencing the group's inclusion in Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" list and its invitation to perform this summer at Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts.
In its latest mainstage performance "Paving the Road of Survival," ensemble dancers will pay tribute to two cultures that have risen above adversities, African-Americans and Jews. The program Friday and Saturday at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown, will cap the company's fourth season and coincide with the August Wilson Center's programming theme "Great Collaborations: The Alliance Between Blacks and Jews in the Twentieth Century."
The hourlong program will feature works by choreographers Christopher Huggins and Kevin Iega Jeff.
"There are two very different pieces on the bill," said founding member Annalee Traylor, who will exit the company after the Jacob's Pillow performance to take part in a five-month international program with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Israel.
The evening will open with Mr. Huggins' "The List," which the former Dance Alloy company premiered in 2010. It chronicles the struggle of Jews during the Holocaust, from the ghettos to the concentration camps.
"It's really emotional, but at the end of it makes you just think, and it makes you want to change the world around you," Ms. Ansari said.
It will be followed by "Dedication," a work rooted in African ancestry that explores the continuation of a culture's legacy from one generation to the next.
"It's about awakening your spiritual sense, becoming more aware, spreading knowledge to your peers and just kind of exuding that confidence of joy and realization that you have found a higher consciousness," Ms. Traylor said.
Together, the pieces will take the audience on an emotional journey, she added.
"The audience is going to feel kind of a wide array of emotions. I think they're going to feel extreme emotion on the spectrum from horror, sadness, pain, sympathy and on the other side they're going to be extremely rejuvenated, extremely optimistic and hopeful at the end of the program."
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.