Passing the Baton 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Last year, one of the highlights of the Tel Aviv Dance festival was the performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Other American companies had received mixed reviews. However, at the end of almost two hours of dance, the audience looked as if they had just seen The Beatles.
The entire crowd was on their feet, applauding endlessly. This is the magic of AAADT. This month, the company returns to Israel for Tel Aviv Dance 2010 with two new programs and, hopefully, the same pizzazz.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has been around for more than 50 years. The company’s long life has been peppered with ups and downs. Alvin Ailey passed away in 1989; Judith Jamison was appointed artistic director shortly thereafter; and the company relocated to a new facility in 2004 – all of which were defining moments for America’s largest dance troupe. Time will tell, but the company has just come to another pivotal point in its history.
Two years ago Jamison announced her decision to step down as artistic
director, a position she had held and thrived in for two decades.
Whispers quickly circulated throughout the dance world: Who would
replace her? Many suspected that the board of directors, whose main
objective has been to preserve Ailey’s legacy, would promote from
within. Jamison was a dancer in the company when she was chosen to take
About a year ago, a short list was assembled. Three
prominent choreographers from the New York community had been selected.
Of them, one seemed a stretch. His name is Robert Battle.
first glance, Battle did not seem to be an obvious or even likely
choice. He did not attend the Ailey school. He never worked personally
with Ailey. Aside from a few pieces he choreographed for the company and
a period during which he danced with Ailey II, Battle was not overly
associated with the Ailey organization. He received his training at the
Julliard School, was a member of Parsons Dance and founded his own
Battle’s critics worry because he never
worked with Ailey. This is true. When Battle danced for Ailey II, Ailey
was no longer living. However, Battle felt as much a part of the Ailey
family as anyone else. “Often you know about someone through work and
not through a personal relationship. That’s how I felt about Mr. Ailey
because of the humanity in his work.”
In 2011, Jamison will
officially step down, leaving Battle in charge of arguably the most
powerful dance institution in the world. The Ailey organization includes
the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II (the second company of
12 dancers), the Ailey School, AileyCamp and the Ailey Extension, which
offers hundreds of open classes every month.
Of course, taking
on this new role is overwhelming for Battle, he explained from a hotel
room in London. “Humbled. I would have to say that was the overwhelming
feeling,” he said, referring to the moments after he was informed that
he had been selected for the position. “Also excited to think that
somebody thought that much of what I did, and if that somebody was
Judith Jamison, that’s pretty good.”
Battle is a warm and funny
man. Even now, having been given a task that would make most people lose
sleep, Battle has a casualness about him that is disarming. He has a
deep respect for and knowledge of dance history. In his open classes,
which he taught for years at Steps on Broadway and the Peridance Center,
he often referred to his predecessors Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham,
Jose Limon and David Parsons. Perhaps this quality is what set him apart
from his contenders. “We need to take a cue from music; they do a
better job of preservation.
The Ailey Company is about past, present and future,” he said.
AAADT is a repertory company, it is now Battle’s job to decide whose
work will be added to the list of famous choreographers to have stood in
Ailey’s studios. “I’m looking at different ways of nurturing young
choreographic voices. That’s something that I am passionate about.”
doubt the coming years will be interesting ones for AAADT. “My
aspiration is to keep pushing the envelope. I’m a person who likes
surprises. Some people have called me a maverick. By nature, the fact
that I’m different will make the company different. I will continue to
expand on what’s already there,” he said.
No AAADT show would be
complete without Revelations, an American dance classic choreographed by
Ailey in 1960. Revelations is the only piece to be presented in both
programs. Joining Revelations are Suite Otis by George Faison, Dancing
Spirit by Ronald K. Brown and Ferra Barocca by Mauro Bigonzetti. In
addition, this tour will feature two pieces by their new director: the
solo In/Side and Unfold.AAADT
will perform on October 26 through October 30 at the Tel Aviv Performing
Arts Center. For tickets, call (03) 692-7777 or visit