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
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.
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."
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."
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.
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
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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