The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to Atlanta for Black History Month, February 16-19, at the Fox Theatre.
The world-renowned theater group will be performing eight different works of dance on the 22-city North American tour.
The Atlanta performances will be the unveiling of new works by choreographers Kyle Abraham (“Are You in Your Feelings?”), Jamar Roberts (“In a Sentimental Mood”), and Twyla Tharp (“Survivors”).
“There is such history in Atlanta. We look forward to the audiences who greet us with such love,” said Robert Battle, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. “And they don’t just express it by showing up, they express it by being vocal in the audience. “
“It almost has that call-and-response thing that we know from church. That people relish in what this company means to them and that they continue to come every year for so many decades. It’s like coming home.”
Battle, 50, became artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011 after being personally selected by former Artistic Director Judith Jamison, making him only the third person to head the company since it was founded in 1958.
As an organization, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre consists of their repertory company as well as Ailey II, Ailey Extension, as well as their Arts in Education & Community programs.
“We’re a vast organization that’s not just the company that you see on stage. We have the Ailey School which is an incredible and vast school. We have our arts and education programs that we do where we get into the community and connect with the young people. We have a junior company called Ailey II and those 12 dancers usually come out of The Ailey School. It is a furtherance of their education. They tour as well and perform different works nationally and internationally. We have Ailey extension, which we offer classes for people who may not choose dance as a profession but they love to dance and they love to dance, so we also offer that,” Battle said.
Recently, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre announced its new AileyCamp, a summer program that uses dance as a means to stretch the minds, bodies, and spirits of middle-school students.
AileyCamp is coming to Atlanta this summer, June 5 -July 14, at Luther J. Price Middle School, in partnership with Purpose Built Schools Atlanta. The six-week, full scholarship program helps students ages 11-14 reach their full potential with classes in dance, personal development, creative communications, and inspiring daily affirmations.
“Alvin Ailey believed that dance could profoundly impact young lives through programs like AileyCamp. We both experienced a life-changing transformation when we entered into the world of dance,” Battle said. “For over three decades, AileyCamp has inspired and educated young people and I’m thrilled that students in Atlanta will be empowered to move purposefully and forge their own path to success.”
AileyCamp-goers learn a myriad of dance techniques in daily classes such as ballet, Horton-based modern, jazz, and West African dance. Tuition, uniforms, dance attire, field trips, breakfast, and lunch are provided during the camp, which culminates in a final performance for friends, family, and community leaders showcasing the students’ hard work in original productions of choreographed dances, poetry reading, and theatrical improvisations.
“We are excited and honored to partner with the Ailey organization and give our students the opportunity to use the power of dance to explore their creativity and help develop self-confidence,” said Greg Giornelli, CEO of Purpose Built Schools Atlanta. “This is a tremendous example of how partnerships with the arts can help ensure our scholars thrive not just in school, but beyond.”
Prior to obtaining his position, Battle was a frequent choreographer and artist-in-residence with the company, who created six ballets that are included in the company’s current repertory: “Ella”, “Four Four”, “In/Side”, “Love Stories” finale, “Mass”, and “Unfold”.
The company will be performing “For Four” and “Untold” in Atlanta and during this year’s tour.
“Two of the works that we’re doing when we perform in Atlanta are my own. One called ‘For Four’, to the music of Wynton Marsalis, and one called ‘Unfold’ to the illustrious singing of the legendary voice that is Leontyne Price,” Battle said.
“Having choreographed several works for the company before I became artistic director was life-changing for any choreographer. To have the opportunity to choreograph for one of the most important companies in the world. But it also made me even more so a part of the family.”
Similar to the way Battle was able to make a name for himself as a choreographer through the company, the same courtesy is being extended to Kyle Abraham and Jamar Roberts, which is a tradition at Alvin Ailey.
“Alvin Ailey wanted to open it up and make it a repertory company, meaning that he would always be living in the center of the past, present, and future, for new choreographers that were just starting to make a name for themselves like I was in 1999,” Battle said.
“One of the works that we’ll be doing is called ‘Are you in Your Feelings?’ by a choreographer named Kyle Abraham who amongst many accolades, is a MacArthur Genius awardee. When he started making this work, we just thought that we couldn’t wait to bring this to Atlanta, then we’ll know if it really pops. What’s great is that it crosses generations. You have music by Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Erykah Badu, Summer Walker, the flamingos, and that wonderful song by Shirley Brown ‘Woman to Woman’. “
Additionally, the company will perform Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece “Revelations”, which is the company’s most popular and revered piece to perform.
“‘Revelations’, which Alvin Ailey choreographed in 1960, is the sweetest spirituals that express the sorrows and hopes of a people. And a universal message of the tenacity of the human spirit,” Battle said.
“In that masterpiece, I could see my great aunt and uncle, and the stories that they told and the way that they sang those particular spirituals. I could see in some ways, myself in the work. That there was such a personal connection. And to see that level of excellence that the Alvin Ailey artists, dancers, are known for and why people love the company so much to see that excellence on stage with people that looked like me, that was so uplifting.”
Tickets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Atlanta performances are on sale at The Fox Theatre box office or online, www.alvinailey.org or www.foxatltix.com and start at $29.
Student tickets are available for all performances except Saturday, February 18 matinee for $15 or two for $25 with a valid student ID. Tickets must be purchased at the Fox Theatre box office (limit two per ID).
“The reason why people want to see this work, year after year, performance after performance is because it reminds us that we are standing on the shoulders of so many who have come before to carve this path for us to continue this journey,”Battle said.
“For me, that’s what’s amazing about being where I am and being able to shepherd the company forward. That’s why I look forward to being in Atlanta and feeling that from the audience. That ultimately says to us as an organization, ‘keep going we need you’. And we’re here to serve.”