Beauty inside

Robert Battle looks back on a decade leading the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Dance lovers in Atlanta have something to celebrate this weekend with the return of the famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company at the Fox Theatre. All the more remarkable, Robert Battle celebrates his 10 years as artistic director of the company. Atlanta is considered the second home of the Ailey company since they performed here for the past 46 years. The dancers occupy the Fox Theater February 10-13. Robert Battle joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about his experience leading the illustrious company and the role dance can play in today’s culture and social climate.

Interview Highlights:

Outstanding Dance Works from Fox Theater’s Upcoming Schedule:

“[There is] a work called ‘Mass’ that I created at the Juilliard School. You know, I’m a graduate of Julliard, 1994, but I did this dance, I believe, in 2005 for Juilliard students, but the company is exciting. When I was a child, I sang in the church choir, and so this dance, in a way, is like a kind of choir. They wear dresses, and it’s very abstract and very interesting and powerful, I think,” Battle said.

“I have to mention a work I choreographed called ‘Ella,’ Battle said, “Of course a tribute to the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, and in particular her scat singing, which is second to none. I mean, it’s amazing. My mother introduced me to her singing, Sarah Vaughan singing. In addition, a solo called “Inside”, which I created many years ago, and which is the music of Nina Simone, will be played. I think the variety of my work lasted maybe a few decades; I really think I represent all of my interests – wanting to be a singer, practicing martial arts of all kinds, growing up in the church.

How Battles felt when asked to take over from Ailey himself and other legends as Art Director:

“Fear,” Battles said. “I find I’m more open to saying that now, and maybe it’s because of the pandemic…I think we all feel like we’ve had a near-death experience in the same way that this pandemic. It is devastating for so many people who have lost so much, and for us to be off the road and unable to do what I believe we are predestined to do, which is to bring people together and play for people.

“I wanted to say, ‘I’m confident. That’s what I’m supposed to do. But no, part of me was scared because I was very aware of, and still am, the legends of Judith Jamison and Alvin Ailey. I mean really? I always felt like this kid from Miami growing up in Liberty City, and now I’m running this company, and everyone’s looking at me, and I’m like, “Look at them!”

Artistic Director Robert Battle with members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. (Photo by Dario Calmese)

Ailey Dance Company’s role as storyteller:

“As we see now, books are being pulled from the school curriculum, books that have to do with our survival with, with our human awareness and our awareness of these tragedies, which hopefully we won’t repeat. I think it’s very important that Ailey plays a role in making sure those stories are told,” Battle said.

“Alvin Ailey was brilliant with words, and he said what he was trying to do was hold up a mirror to society so that ultimately people could see how beautiful they are. But I think sometimes to get to that beauty you have to see some of the ugly truths,” Battle said. “Dance has a way of being able to express those truths in a way that people can hear. You know, I always say that where language fails, dance excels.

Tickets and information for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company performances at the Fox Theater, February 10-13, are available here.