Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Robert Battle's Triumphant Return

Categories: Dance
Artburst NT AileyLR.jpg
Lately, we have been reminded that dance is a fragile art form, as fleeting as life itself. Merce Cunningham's company disbanded at the end of 2011, a year and half after his death. And Pina, Wim Wenders' Oscar-nominated documentary about famed German choreographer Pina Bausch, is a memorial to the recent passing of a powerful force in contemporary performance. The alchemy of dance is so delicate that even the change of one key performer can make a distinct impact.

That's why the international creative community is so eagerly watching the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as it enters its third generation.

In 2011, Robert Battle was chosen as the company's new artistic director. This assignment of a lifetime is all the more impressive when seen in the context of Battle's background. At an early age, he was placed in the custody of his great aunt, who he refers to as his mother, and the family moved from Jacksonville to Miami's Liberty City neighborhood.

His great aunt's daughter, who also lived in the area, was an early influence on his new neighborhood and on Battle. As he tells it, "she was important in the community because she was a teacher of English for many years in the public school system" and was also a cultural leader. "She had a group called the Afro-Americans that performed in schools and churches and theaters -- they performed poetry and song dealing with the black experience. I was surrounded by the arts." He took classes at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, and eventually he landed at the New World School of the Arts.

Battle is an innovator but not a reckless renegade -- he clearly has reverence for the Ailey legacy. "What's important to me," he says, "is to honor tradition but to move briskly into the future." Already, Battle has broken new ground by putting hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris's Home and Israeli-American Ohad Naharin's Minus 16 in the repertoire of his inaugural season.

Despite his stunning rise, Battle remains humbly indebted to those who have helped along the way. "So many people, including my extended family... took me in and supported me. I think because of that, I always worked hard. I felt that I was given a chance and that I needed to utilize it."

His return to Miami will be an emotionally charged homecoming. The Miami dance community, including the many New World students he has influenced and inspired, will be out in full force. Also on his guest list are "teachers, family members, friends of the family, and people from the church that I grew up in. I'm actually going to go to that church on Sunday. They're going to do a whole program and I'm going to speak to the young people. So it's going to be quite a celebration."

Battle's maiden footprint on the Ailey brand, his addition to the chemistry of modern dance, will be apparent not only with Harris' Home on the schedule, but also with the troupe's first ever performance of Arden Court, a piece from the seriously solid and non-fragile member of the contemporary dance elements, Paul Taylor. And to keep it steady, both programs in the performance schedule will include founder Ailey's Revelations.

Ailvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., from Thursday, Feb. 23 through Sunday, Feb. 26. Program A includes Arden Court, Minus 16, and Revelations and is performed on Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.; Program B includes Home, Takademe, The Hunt, and Revelations and is performed on Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.; for more details and tickets, call 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org.

--Annie Hollingsworth, artburstmiami.com

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Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL

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