Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s return to downtown New York City from December 1 to 19 is more than just a post-pandemic homecoming. The season also marks the 10th anniversary of artistic director Robert Battle and the final performance of principal dancer Jamar Roberts. Both luminaries will be celebrated for their inimitable contributions to the Company, and they will also make their world premiere debuts.
These premieres both made their virtual debuts and first took the stage in the New Works program on Friday, December 3. Roberts’s Holding space, on an eclectic score by Tim Hecker, explores ways to care and heal. battle For four, sand on a 4/4 jazz score by Wynton Marsalis, captures the pent-up energy of pandemic isolation.
After the weight of this recent period, Battle believes the company’s return to the city center will be “an affirmation of life” and looks forward to the “exchange of heart and soul” that accompanies the live performances. This exchange will be particularly effective on Tuesday, December 7, when his visionary leadership will be celebrated in a Battle 10th Anniversary program. In addition to For four, the program includes Mass, Ella, Inside / Side, a new production of his duo Unfold, and one Love stories final. These works spanned many years and Battle likened the evening to âopening a newspaperâ. It is a rare privilege for the public to get a glimpse of the brilliance of the scope of Battle’s work. He will be honored as a living legend when he receives the prestigious Dance Magazine 2021 award on Monday, December 6, a perfect start to a week to remember.
âI feel so full of hope, of pride,â Battle said of this milestone year. “As I look forward to the next 10 years, I hope to realize my own vision even more fully by continuing Alvin Ailey’s legacy and creating my own.”
Battle is also looking forward to celebrating the undeniable talents of Roberts, whom he appointed as resident choreographer in 2019 (a role Roberts will retain). Battle himself transitioned from dance to choreography about 20 years ago – around the same time Roberts joined Ailey – and is delighted that Roberts could “more fully realize his choreographic gifts.”
Roberts’ absence from the stage will certainly be felt, but his choreographic presence has proven to be a force in its own right. He pours himself into his works, which often touch on the painful truths of our world. He aims to get through tough times and believes, “Unless you approach it with a big, heavy sword, you won’t be heard.”
Roberts can be heard loud and clear with Holding space, which takes place against a backdrop of civil unrest and environmental threat. Although originally choreographed under the constraints of social distancing, Roberts says, “the restrictions have freed me to explore new ways.” The play returns with Battle’s For four Thursday, December 9 at a farewell party to Roberts which offers the public the singular pleasure of seeing him take the stage in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations one last time.
While Roberts has undoubtedly stood out during his two decades with the Company, he is delighted to âgive voice to the younger dancersâ and finds his choreographic work deeply fulfilling.
âTeaching choreography is an act of giving, an act of generosity,â says Roberts. Like Battle, his willingness to share his work is a gift to the dancers and the audience. The similarities between the two, both from Miami, are at times bizarre and we’re fortunate to live in a time when the two of them create so fervently.
After such a long time away from the theater, there is perhaps no greater gift than discovering the remarkable talents of the Ailey Company, savoring Roberts’ dance one last time, and celebrating Battle’s journey to bar. The public is in good hands for decades to come with these virtuosos in mind.
Lauren Morrow, formerly associate director of public relations for the Ailey organization, is a member of the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ program. She has received numerous awards for her fiction and is currently working on a novel.