Friday, May 18, 2012

Ailey leader on teachers, dance and 'Revelations'

Short of diving into the crowd like a politician on the stump, the leader of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater could hardly have been more outgoing at the company's opening night in Charlotte. Robert Battle even asked Tuesday's audience where to find good barbecue -- and was bombarded with more shouted-out names than he could handle. He let it go before any fights broke out. 

As part of his first season as Ailey's artistic director, Battle is going around with the company making acquaintance with the audiences in its tour cities -- in many of which, including Charlotte, it's a regular visitor. Since the company has a weekend of Knight Theater performances still to go, let's spend a little more time getting to know him. As a sequel to the Observer's advance story on Ailey's visit, here are a few more comments from a recent interview.  (Photo of Battle with his predecessor, Judith Jamison, by Paul Kolnik.) 

On his teachers in Miami schools: As a teenager in the 1980s, living in an inner-city area that was the scene of much-publicized riots, Battle studied dance in a public-school magnet program. He began to believe he had a future in dance because of "a couple of teachers who really took an interest in me and thought I had a gift for dancing. They gave me the courage and inspiration to go deeper. That's a big part of why I'm here -- some great teachers who went beyond the classroom to give me me all the tools I needed to move forward. They went so far as paying out of their own pockets for me to have outside classes and private lessons." 

On leading the Ailey company: Battle took over the company after more than a decade as a choreographer and head of his own group, Battleworks. As his first season as director is winding up, he enjoys travelling with the dancers, "especially to cities where the company has history -- going to see and hear and feel the response to some of the additions I've made to the company's repertoire and to dancers I've hired. To see those dancers experience the Ailey audiences for the first time, and have that reflected back from the audiences, is probably the most rewarding part of the job.

On modern dance and Ailey's "Revelations": "One of the things I love about modern dance is the humanness of it. Even as we achieve joy onstage, or (embody) the idea of it, you're still rooted on the ground. Gravity is still a factor. There's something poetic about that. At the beginning of "Revelations," when the curtain comes up on the dancers with their arms stretched out and their hands and palms open, showing that vulnerable side, they're rooted on the ground. They're weighted. But their focus is up on the heavens. That creates the idea of hope. And hope isn't devoid of weight. Hope is in spite of it, right? I love that metaphor for dance in general."