Ailey’s AD Battles for the Ages
Robert Battle intentionally benched his own creative endeavors when he took over as artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011, as only the third person to occupy the position after founder Ailey’s 31-year tenure, and former dancer Judith Jamison’s 21-year reign. Instead, Battle focused on administrative duties and even more so on broadening the company’s scope, bringing in familiar and often surprising choreographers to create new work for the athletic dancers.
“I care more about the company continuing to be as vital as it always has and showcasing the rich tapestry of all that the dancers are capable of doing, ones who can go from hip hop to classical and everything in between,” Battle explained. “I’d already made a lot of dances, so I didn’t necessarily feel deprived of the opportunity to create more.”
Then the pandemic hit – the shutdown forced him to slow down and take stock, and even spend some time reviewing his own dance history. “It was really liberating to have the time to reflect on my own choreographic career, and I realized that yes, I do still have things I want to say.”
The result is a nifty, often frenetic 10-minute piece called For Four that addresses the pent-up energy produced by pandemic protocols as well as the amplification of racial issues that exploded with the George Floyd murder in the summer of 2020 and the attack on the Capitol in January 2021 – even if that was more a matter of instinct than intention.
“My inspiration was Langston Hughes’ I, Too, Sing America and the idea of reclaiming the notion that this country was built on the back of the people who have been made to feel less than human,” Battle said. “There are images and moments, but they’re brief and then you keep moving and that’s really true to life.”
For Four forms the centerpiece of a program featuring six other of Battles’ dances for Ailey, spanning 1999 – 2008, that comprises the first half of night one of Ailey at the Granada (April 13 – 14), meant to mark the artistic director’s 10th anniversary at the helm. Battle said the program’s enthusiastic response has been “life affirming” and has him wanting to make more works for the company.
The second night’s opening piece is Lazarus, an hour-long work commissioned in 2018 from Rennie Harris to trace and commemorate the company’s history and legacy via words and movement from Ailey himself. Both nights close with Ailey’s 1960 gospel-inspired masterpiece Revelations, which somehow seems even more timely than when it was created 60 years ago.
“It’s like the Mona Lisa, old but still vital and impactful,” Battle said. “No matter where we go, people relate to the work and find their own struggle in it, because there’s so much depth and humanity. And watching it makes you feel good.”
Dance Dimensions: Six Steps for Spring
Visions of Vibrancy, UCSB Dance’s spring concert, features new original work from six senior BFA candidates with the choreographers featured in fall’s Kinetic Lab 2021 expanding their visions and casts to create more fully rendered pieces. The culmination of two years of choreographic research and developing their individual aesthetic and methods, the production explores such themes as the struggle of choosing self-preservation over sacrificing one’s humanity to conform, weaving new connections between the spiritual and physical embodiments, traversing the five stages of grief, and yearning for equality and diversity in a world that often falls short of inclusion. Performances run April 7-10 in UCSB’s Hatlen Theater. Visit theaterdance.ucsb.edu for more information.