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Robert Battle Brings Ailey Back To Arsht

Company Returns With A Premier By Miami Native


Cameron Basden

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It's the always much anticipated yearly arrival when the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater comes to the Adrienne Arsht Center. This is the tenth consecutive year, bringing new creations, exciting revivals and company premieres to Miami audiences. The company’s very composition is Miami specific and the home city, once again, welcomes Ailey, dance in all its finest that has become a household name.

The company performs at the Arsht Feb. 22 through 25.

Ailey artistic director, Robert Battle is from Liberty City. He was in Miami for a few days to promote the upcoming performances and to visit his origins, and nostalgically spoke about his inspiration to become a dancer.

Having seen the Alvin Ailey company when he was a younster, Battle credits that initial performance with where he is now in his career. Yes, he's made it to the top of the dance world.

“Seeing the Ailey company as a young boy inspired me so much.” He laughingly adds, “The rest is history.”

“That’s the wonderful thing when we come here, in particular. It is so close to home and reflective of what happened to me when I saw the company for the first time. It is very personal.”

Among the many offerings that the company provides, the Ailey outreach and educational programs are significant with extensive offerings for students, schools and engagement programs in the theater. New this year, among the numerous activities, is a “Revelations” residency, and an interdisciplinary program inspired by Alvin Ailey’s piece, “Night Creature.”

“We try to get off of the stage and into the communities that we serve by providing classes and getting into the public schools.”

Becoming an artistic director following in the footsteps of two groundbreakers is no easy task. Now in his seventh year as AD, Battle feels strongly that the company has embraced his signature while continuing to evolve.

“The fabulous leadership of Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) and Judith Jamison made it easy for me to come in and just explore other possibilities. It’s amazing to see a cultural institution, after the death of the founder, continue to expand and grow. We don’t always see that. Alvin Ailey left us a blue print that we continue to follow.”

There may be a blueprint, but under Battle’s leadership, the company has become vast with tendrils that go in many different directions. Ailey has become one of the leaders in contemporary companies containing a solid educational program and a thriving school in New York.

“As we move toward our 60th anniversary, we continue to look for ways that we can have a footprint all year round, partnering with local organizations to be able to have more of a presence. That’s really exciting!”

In the Arsht performances, Miami native, Ailey dancer and now, choreographer, Jamar Roberts, who grew up in the Goulds neighborhood in Southwest Miami Dade, will be premiering his first piece of choreography he created for the Ailey company.. His first piece was choreographed for the junior company, Ailey II. But now this up-and-comer has arrived. On Oct. 9, 2017, the New York Times featured a profiled on Roberts, who studied at Dance Empire in Kendall as a youngster.

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Battle says, “I had been on the periphery watching him, even when he didn’t know, and I felt it was the right time to choreograph on the main company. That is a very big deal, a big moment for a choreographer and, boy, he didn’t waste a moment.”

Inspired by the acute politically and socially charged atmosphere, Roberts created “Members Don’t Get Weary,” set to the magnificent music of John Coltrane.

“Jamar wanted to make a work that had to do with the search for spiritual evolution and the notion of the black church. The role that religion has played in our community. It is really much about the blues. The blues have a healing property to them.”

In this Ailey performance season, there is a powerful line-up. In addition to Roberts' piece is another world premier entitled “Victoria” choreographed by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano.

“I’m always looking for work that is a different look for the company and maybe more challenging for the audience; to see the company in a different way that they never expected. That’s what he gave us with this work, “Victoria.” It is very abstract movement, perhaps otherworldly.”

The New World School of the Arts has done the Battle piece, “Mass.” Battle decided that this season was a perfect opportunity to revive the piece for the Ailey company. The creation of “Mass” started with music. Battle was very inspired by seeing a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.

“The choir was so huge.” he said. “The choreography of the voices is what I was entranced by, so I wanted to make a choreographed choir, if you will. The only difference is that they’re dealing with their bodies and not their mouth.”

Another of Battle’s pieces on the program is “The Hunt,” a powerful, exhausting and difficult piece.

“It reflects my growing up in Liberty City. I had my fair share of being picked on. I studied classical piano and then dance.”

A friend’s father who was a retired third degree blackbelt taught him karate.

“So “The Hunt” comes out of that fear and fearlessness all at the same time. Part of the intensity and exhaustion is in that vigorousness of the martial arts training that I went through.”

No interview with the artistic director of Alvin Ailey is complete without speaking about the timeless masterpiece, “Revelations” created by Alvin Ailey in 1960 and performed on every program.

“Alvin Ailey wanted the company to say something about the world that he knew. The conditions through which his people came to arrive where we are. When you look at the times we live in, there is always a need for revelation, always a need to learn from our history, from works that have been illuminating about our common humanity. I think it’s more relevant now than ever. Really, it’s a message of hope that was created on the brink of the Civil Rights Movement. To have the audacity, at 29, to give us this message of hope. And we can share that.”

“Revelations” is almost a "rite of passage" for dancers joining the company.

“The Alvin Ailey brand and the Alvin Ailey spirit is really what the company is about. No matter what we dance, that spirit is imbued in that particular work. At the end of the day, these are dancers of Alvin Ailey American Dance and “Revelations” gives them that sense of belonging to the company.”


Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater February 22 - 25, 2018
Ziff Ballet Opera House
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County
1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33132
(305) 949-6722 
www.arshtcenter.org

Tickets, starting at $29, are on sale at arshtcenter.org or (305) 949-6722. Group discounts available by calling (786) 468-2326 or e-mail groupsales@arshtcenter.org. Discounted tickets are also available for students with an appropriate id for all performances. Up to 50 percent off tickets $39 or higher available for day of performances.

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