Robert Battle of Alvin Ailey
Taking over the reins of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is quite a responsibility, especially considering that President Barack Obama and the First Lady chose to attend one of the company’s ballets as their first-ever outing to the Kennedy Center after moving into the White House in 2009. Moreover, the Obama family’s support of this revered ballet company – along with the company’s worldwide popularity – continues to this day.
“It’s a privilege as much as a job,” said Robert Battle, of his new position as artistic director, over a casual dinner at Leatherby’s Café Rouge in Costa Mesa. Dinner preceded the acclaimed ballet troupe’s Mar. 6 Opening Night at the nearby Segerstrom Center for the Arts of Orange County, California.
Over conversations between appetizers and desserts, Battle couldn’t have sounded more enthusiastic about taking over as Artistic Director or his experiences getting the top spot and in the months since.
Regarding the First Family’s support, Battle talked of Michelle Obama’s recent stint as honorary chair – along with supermodel Iman – of the company’s season-opening gala in New York in November. And although the First Lady couldn’t attend that night, Battle said she sent along her greetings, which he read to the crowd. Then just last month, she turned up with Sasha and Malia at a performance in Washington D.C.
Judy Morr, the Center’s executive vice president, among other guests at dinner, described the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater as America’s “most traveled company,” mentioning that Congress recognized the company as an important “cultural ambassador to the world.” Indeed, since its launch in 1958, the Alvin Ailey troupe has traveled to more than 48 states and 70 countries on six continents.
Battle said his official start occurred during a trip to Moscow in July.
Certainly times have changed since the company’s origins during the early civil rights movement. Battle said when the company first toured the country, the dancers were integrating some hotels for the first time. “Now we’re welcomed everywhere in the world,” he said.
Recently Battle hired nine dancers and judging from his description of the process, he clearly enjoyed the experience. Recalling the auditions, he said that after he selected nine dancers, he said the words, “Welcome to Alvin Ailey.” He then smiled as he recounted the “screaming, shouting, crying,” that followed.
“To be in the Alvin Ailey company is a gift,” he said.
Battle is the company’s third director, his only predecessors having been founder Alvin Ailey and the legendary Judith Jamison, who took over in 1989. Ailey hand-picked Jamison as his successor; Jamison chose Battle.
Describing the night’s program, he said his work “Takademe,” was choreographed in a tiny apartment in Queens and lasted 3 minutes 20 seconds. “If you blink, you miss it,” he said.
Also on the diverse and upbeat bill were “Arden Court” by Paul Taylor and the hip-hop piece “Home” by Rennie Harris. As always, the show closed with the company’s signature “Revelations,” Ailey’s classic masterpiece with its gospel music score.
Battle said he first saw “Revelations” at age 13 – that was when he knew what he wanted for his future.
The ballet continues at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts until Sun., Mar. 11. Click here for tickets or call (714) 556-2787 for further information.
Second photo from top: The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in “Arden Court” by Paul Taylor on stage at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Third photo from top: New artistic director Robert Battle of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater with Judy Morr, left, executive vice president of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and Michelle Rohe, right, an SCFTA supporter
Bottom photo: Scene from the Alvin Ailey’s Dance Theater’s “Revelations” on stage at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County
All photos by Doug Gifford, courtesy of the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Orange County, CA
IN OTHER LOS ANGELES SOCIETY NEWS:
New Artistic Director Robert Battle of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
Published Mar. 8, 2012 – Ellen Olivier, Society News LA