When the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT) takes the stage at the Arsht Center on Feb. 18 through the 21, the five performances will be the highlight of the acclaimed company’s presence in Miami, but a fraction of what the Ailey organization actually brings to South Florida.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Robert Battle, who grew up in Liberty City and has, for the past five years, been AAADT’s artistic director. His stop in Miami this year includes teaching master classes at his alma maters; New World School of the Arts and Miami Northwestern.
As Ailey would have wanted, this year’s visit includes a tremendous amount of community outreach and education; with dance workshops and Revelations residences at public schools. For the first time in Miami, the company is offering The Ailey Experience, a two-day dance workshop open to anyone who wants to learn the revered Revelations choreography, and Horton, the modern dance technique on which it’s based.
The company is just coming off a critically acclaimed five week season in New York. In the past year the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre has performed all over the world; South Africa, London, Switzerland, Italy, France and is currently touring North America. All an indication that Battle is enjoying the kind of success his great uncle, Willie Horne could never have imagined.
When he received a full scholarship to Julliard, Horne asked him, “What kind of operation is this? Will you be able to get a job?” Battle’s training and talent launched him into more than a job. He has a stratospherically successful career with his work continually taking him around the world and into the company of some of the world’s most important people.
In a full circle moment, Battle’s return home will have him premiering his first work since taking the helm, Awakening. In addition to featuring another New World graduate, dancer, Jamar Roberts, the number was co-commissioned by the Arsht Center as part of its 10th anniversary celebration, 10@10.
The number 10 is an appropriate, superlative for Battle’s new book, My Story, My Dance, which won the prestigious Orbis Pictus award for children’s books. Of the honor, he said, “I only hoped that somebody would read it. I didn’t expect it to get such accolades”.
He said the children’s book is a tribute to his teachers, his family, his village.
“It really is a story about Liberty City. It’s a story about that part of Miami that’s often left out of the dialogue. As much as it’s about my life, it’s really to shine a light on Liberty City, Miami Northwestern, Wactor Temple, everything,” Battle said. “Veronica Swindell, who was head of the dance dept at Northwestern; Pam Jarvis drove me around town to dance classes.”
One of the most important people in that village is his mother, Dessie Horne Williams, a retired teacher, thespian and church pianist.
“I would not have the theatrical and poetic life that I have without her recital of poems and seeing her work with her group, ‘The Afro Americans,’ with my godfather, Rychard Cook,” he shared.
Another member of his village was his great uncle, Willie Horne, whom he credits with helping him find himself. “Boy, be that what you is. Don’t try to be that what you ain’t,” is an example of the wisdom often shared by his uncle, to whom Battle said he is eternally grateful for “What he did in terms of helping to raise me with his wife, my great aunt, Anna Horne.”
Although Horne had very little formal education, Battle said he thought and talked like a philosopher.
“One of my favorites would be ‘boy, you can be slow, then you can be too slow. You can be fast, but you can be too fast,”’ a phrase Battles said he uses with his dancers.
Life is “really about possibilities, anything is possible, you just have to believe. You have to imagine yourself where you want to be.”
He said his message is more important than ever. “That’s what this book is about for young people. It is so important to use the imagination and choose love always.”
Traci Cloyd is veteran journalist working across platforms. She’s a news anchor heard weekdays during the Tom Joyner Morning Show on HOT 105.