Special to South Florida Times
It’s been seven months since Liberty City native Robert Battle took the helm as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company’s artistic director. In 2010 Battle was named successor by Judith Jamison, the company’s artistic director emeritus, who retired in June 2011.
With Battle having worked with the company for many years as a guest choreographer, his ascension left many guessing what he had in store for his first official season as director. Their wait just got shorter.
The Ailey company will perform at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County from Feb. 23-26. Works include Battle-choreographed The Hunt and Takademe, Paul Taylor’s Arden Court, hip-hop choreographer extraordinaire Rennie Harris’ Home, American-Israeli choreographer Ohan Naharin’s Minus 16, and the Ailey signature ensemble Revelations.
HARKENING BACK TO THE PAST
“(For this season) I was looking to shake things up a bit and, in doing so, I’m looking at past, present, and future,” said Battle, a graduate of New World School of the Arts in Miami, and the Julliard School in New York.
“Certainly honoring our tradition and honoring the masterpiece Revelations and looking to the present with Home, (which) expresses the issue of HIV as a way to entertain and educate. We lost Mr. Ailey in 1989 to the disease. So, it’s important that we remember that, especially because African-Americas are disproportionately affected by this disease and this epidemic.”
In the spirit of “shaking things up,” Battle decided to go with Naharin’s Minus 16 for its unexpectedness and brilliance with one dancer, Samuel Roberts, improvising a 15-minute dance solo that turns into audience participation during intermission. For Battle, the best part of Minus 16 is that it creates a warmer atmosphere amongst audience members.
Roberts, 34, is a former Julliard School student as well. “I appreciate Robert’s respect for me as a human being and as a person very capable of making sound decisions,” said the Quakertown, Pa. native. “That trust translates to dancers wanting to do as much as possible for Robert.”
Roberts worked with Battle in his now disbanded choreography company Battleworks. According to Roberts, Battle’s 2008 hit piece In/Side was choreographed for Roberts, whose performance in In/Side has been called “best dramatic dancing” and “ultimately touching” by writers for Dance Magazine and the New York Times, respectively.
As for early reaction to the new artistic director, “The excitement around my first season has been phenomenal,” said Battle, “from the prep to the reviews to the excitement of the audiences.”
The company began its tour on Feb. 2, performing in Toronto, Canada, before moving on to Washington, D.C., Chapel Hill, N.C., Atlanta, Ga. and Sarasota. After their Miami shows the company will perform in Jacksonville, Houston, Texas, Las Vegas, Nev., Tucson, Az., Detroit, Mi., Chicago, Ill., Ottawa, Ontario, and Montreal, Quebec.
It seems like a lot of stops for the Ailey company, but being called “Cultural Ambassadors to the World” by the U.S. Congress carries gravity with dance enthusiasts across North America.
Although Battle and his company are touring the continent, he’s most excited about coming back to South Florida roots.
“When I come home, I’m reminded of that young person who saw Revelations for the first time at the Jackie Gleason Performing Arts Center,” said Battle. “That image took me from Miami to all over this country. So, when I go home, I’m reminded of all of the people who contributed to help me get where I am.”
REACHING FOR THE FUTURE
After making a life-changing decision to leave Miami Northwestern Senior High School and attend the New World School of the Arts in downtown Miami, Battle seized every opportunity to achieve his dream of being a dancer.
Now he is reaching back to others looking to make their mark in the dance field. For example, the New Directions Choreographic Lab places four choreographers with selected Ailey dancers to create a work with professionals to advise and critique. The Ailey company and Chase also recently sponsored a Revelations Residency at Miami Northwestern.
According to several published reviews, Ailey’s current season is revitalizing the Ailey image and making bold moves. But the only way to test the critics is to see for yourself.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
WHEN: Feb. 23-26 at 8 p.m., Feb. 25-26 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Carnival Studio Theater, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. Miami
COST: $20-$120; parking $15-$25
CONTACT: 305-949-6722 or arshtcenter.org. For more on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, visit alvinailey.org
Photo: by Paul Kolnik
JUDITH JAMISON’S SUCCESSOR: Robert Battle, the Alvin Ailey Company’s new director, is back in his South Florida roots.