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Inglewood Dancer Leaps Into Spotlight With Top Troupe : Performance: Matthew Rushing, the youngest member of the Alvin Ailey company, fulfills dream.


Nineteen-year-old Matthew Rushing, formerly of Inglewood and now the youngest member of the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, recalls his moment of revelation.

His mother had taken him to a sold-out performance of the Ailey dancers at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, having bought two scalped tickets.

She put her boy, then 13, in the best seat and took herself to the high balcony. Rushing was sitting down-center in the orchestra section when the company began dancing its founder's critically acclaimed masterpiece, "Revelations."

"Once I saw the dancers," Rushing remembers, "that's when I knew what I wanted to do."

When the curtain goes up Wednesday on the first of seven performances by the New York City dance company at UCLA's Royce Hall, Rushing will be dancing "Revelations," which remains his favorite work.

"It's because it's so fulfilling to me," said Rushing, whose career began in the performing arts programs that the city of Inglewood operates in its parks and in its small public theater, the Inglewood Playhouse.

"When I do 'Revelations,' " he said last week, "it's more than me dancing. It's almost a spiritual thing going on. It's me expressing my feelings and . . . also allowing myself to express someone else's feelings."

"Revelations," a work critics call timeless and monumental, is Ailey's tribute to the cornerstones of the black religious experience--humanity, faith and survival. Ailey died in 1989 and the company today is run by Judith Jamison.

Rushing's enthusiasm and talent for dance first became apparent when, as a preteen, he took part in a musical production at the Inglewood Playhouse. Then-director Cephus Jaxon steered Rushing to after-school dance classes the city provided at Rogers Park.

There, teacher Ruth Ashton Blake, who is still dancing and teaching in Inglewood, became Rushing's mentor and enrolled him in her own dance school and company. Rushing credits Blake with introducing him "to the passionate part of dancing."

"There's certain parts of dance where (the emphasis on) the technical keeps you strong," Rushing said. "But (Blake) emphasized the part that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It's the part of the dance that makes the audience feel emotions."

"Without those programs," Rushing said of the city's performing arts offerings, "I would (not) have been in dance today."

After attending Highland and La Tijera elementary schools and spending a year at Leuzinger High School, Rushing transferred in his sophomore year to the Los Angeles High School for the Performing Arts. He missed his graduation ceremony, though, because in the spring of 1991 he was named a Presidential Scholar. He was in the White House shaking hands with George Bush when his classmates were receiving their diplomas.

(In January he also met Bill Clinton during the President's inaugural festivities. The Ailey troupe was the only dance company to be asked to perform that week.)

After graduating from the Performing Arts High School, Rushing was taken by one of the dance teachers there to Berkeley for an Ailey audition. Breaking with its tradition of taking only Ailey-school trained dancers, they offered Rushing a full scholarship to the New York City dance school and put him in Ailey's second company, a training corps not unlike baseball farm teams. In less than a year, Rushing was moved into the main company and has been busy dancing his way around the world since.

The strenuous travel schedule is the main drawback to dancing, he said. "So far, since I've been in the company, the longest I've been home is three weeks."

His UCLA performances will give his family its first glimpse of the newest Ailey dancer. Barbara and Prince Nairn, his mother and stepfather who recently moved from Inglewood to San Bernardino, will be there, along with Rushing's two older brothers.

Rushing says his parents are so excited about watching him dance that they have also bought tickets for the performances the company will present in Cerritos after the curtain comes down at UCLA.

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