Artistic Director Robert Battle (left) has carried forward the legacy of founder Alvin Ailey (right) while adding new works to the company's repertoire.
Ailey, who founded the company in 1958 and died in 1989, drew inspiration for Revelations from his experience growing up in rural Texas and attending a Baptist church. “I’m a black man whose roots are in the sun and the dirt of the South,” he said in an archived interview from a 2010 film commemorating the work’s 50th anniversary. The half-hour dance suite, which Celia Wren of The Washington Post calls “a dramatic journey from sorrow and longing to joy,” is presented in three sections and is set to 10 powerful African-American spirituals and gospel songs, from “I Been ’Buked” to “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.” The first section, “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” laments the burdens of life, as dancers stretch their arms skyward. The second, “Take Me to the Water,” explores the purifying significance of baptism. And the last, “Move, Members, Move,” celebrates the unshakable faith of “ladies on a Sunday morning with fans and hats at a country church,” as Ailey described it in the film. “All of this is part of my blood memory,” he said. Ailey, who created 79 works for his dancers, received the Kennedy Center Honor in 1988. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. Although he first presented his masterpiece during the height of the civil rights movement, its message of hope still resonates, both in the U.S. and in the 70 other nations where it has been performed. Robert Battle, the company’s artistic director since 2011, says that a performance of Revelations in Miami persuaded him to pursue a life in dance. “Seeing Revelations in some ways was everything that I already knew growing up — overcoming adversity of some type.” Battle, 43, grew up in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, and attended that city’s New World School of the Arts and then New
York’s Juilliard School before embarking on a career as a dancer and choreographer. Three of Battle’s own ballets — No Longer Silent, Awakening and The Hunt — are now part of the Ailey repertory. He has also showcased the work of other leadingedge choreographers, and founded the New Directions Choreography Lab to nurture the next generation of artists. Robert Hill, artistic director of the arts center's resident company, Orlando Ballet, is among those eagerly anticipating Alley's local performance. Hill says the troupe’s “intensely athletic and beautifully nuanced artists” give it a unique identity in American dance. Hill has several Ailey connections. When he was a performer with American Ballet Theatre, he taught an Ailey company class. Several years ago, he invited former Ailey dancer Abdur-Rahim Jackson to create a new work for the Orlando Ballet. “I very much look forward to seeing the company here,” Hill adds. “I hope it will inspire collaboration between us.” — Dana S. Eagles EVENT: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater DATE/TIME: Monday, February 27, 2017, 7:30 p.m. VENUE: Walt Disney Theater NOTES: The groundbreaking dance company will present a program of modern dance, including its signature piece, Revelations, which is set to 10 powerful African-American spirituals and gospel songs. TICKETS: Prices start at $45 844.513.2014 • drphillipscenter.org WINTER 2016 | artsLife