For Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater artistic director Robert Battle, this week marks a special return, not just to the Arsht Center, where his company performs annually, but also to the city where he grew up.
“It's more personal [performing in Miami]; it reminds me where I come from,” says Battle, a Liberty City native. “My mom [Dessie Williams] still lives in the same house. I used to dance on the marble floor of our front porch. The Arsht Center wasn't far away.”
Wearing leg braces as a child, Battle overcame physical challenges and practiced ballet as a teen. He attended New World School of Arts and then Juilliard.
While he's in Miami, Battle will announce two scholarships for local students to attend the Ailey School Summer Intensive in New York. Introducing dance to children during their school years is as crucial as it is beneficial, he says.
February 23 through 26 will mark the only South Florida shows in the 19-city tour and will feature world and company premieres, new choreography, as well as new productions and music. Each day of the tour stop will focus on different themes and ballets, but the revered choreography of Revelations will be shown throughout the weekend.
Ailey’s tour de force, Revelations, became one of the most praised and sought-after ballets, billed as a must-see for all and recognized by a U.S. Senate resolution for its riveting theme and spectacular performance.
“Personal expression of struggle becomes a universal expression. The message of hope is always needed to be felt. Dance is ambiguous," Battle says, noting the genre's ability to make a statement without offending, an almost silent poetry. "Ailey didn't want to just entertain; he wanted to educate.” Though Revelations premiered in 1960, modern performances show off its symbolistic undertones and mesmerizing physicality, intertwining in a work that feels both classic and relevant.
Battle takes an organic approach to tackling social issues. Revelations, for example, concentrates on African-American gospels and songs of old that reflect the tenacity of the soul. Ailey once said America’s richest treasure was the cultural heritage of the African-American. Additionally, and in a more tangible sense, Revelations originates from Ailey’s childhood in rural Texas and the Baptist church.
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Aside from performing perennial favorites, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will showcase world premieres such as Untitled America and r-Evolution, Dream.
Untitled America is a three-part series that will show the impact of the prison system on African-American families. The piece incorporates interviews by those affected. The idea took three seasons to produce. This world premiere is choreographed by MacArthur "Genius" grant recipient Kyle Abraham, and music is provided by Laura Mvula and Raime.
While Untitled America deals with the struggles of the African-American spirit in the present, r-Evolution, Dream shows the disparity and hope of the past and future. Choreographer Hope Boykin took inspiration from the sermons and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Amid today’s political and global turmoil, the humble yet powerful speeches of Dr. King offer a newfound perspective of tranquility and an ounce of hope within a pound of despair. Music for the ballet will be performed by Ali Jackson.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Thursday, February 23, through Sunday, February 26, at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $29 to $125.