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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Robert Battle

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AAADT's Robert Battle. Photo: Laura Spencer/KCUR

As of July 2011, modern dance choreographer Robert Battle is the new artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. This marks only the third artistic leader of the New York City-based company since its founding in 1958.

By Laura Spencer

Kansas City, Mo. – As of July 2011, modern dance choreographer Robert Battle is the new artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. This marks only the third artistic leader of the New York City-based company since its founding in 1958. Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison was Ailey's muse and a leading dancer in the company; she was selected by Ailey to lead the company following his death in 1989.

KCUR's Laura Spencer spoke to Robert Battle backstage at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts about learning from Jamison and making his own mark.

Lessons Learned from Judith Jamison

"She (Jamison) said, 'You are going to do it your way because you have your own singular voice. I trust you and I know that you will do well,'" said Battle. "And that just gives me courage to dream a little bit and dreams are important. That's what this company was founded on."

Company Premiere of Battle's "Takademe (1999)

"That work ("Takademe") I made in a tiny space in an apartment in Queens," he said. At the time, Battle was a dancer with Parsons Dance, a company founded by David Parsons. He danced with Parsons Dance for seven years, before creating his own company, Battleworks.

"I didn't think of myself as a choreographer in the way that I think of myself now," said Battle. "It was more I loved the idea of putting together movement."

Fascination with Dance

"I tried a lot of things: playing piano, (singing) soprano in the church choir - until my voice changed," said Battle. His mother loved to watch Fred Astaire and Gene Kelley movies, and Battle said he would try to make his mother laugh by imitating them.

"When I found dance, it was the one art form that I could do. And even though I was nervous, I could get through it," he said. "This (dance) was the one I could express myself most freely through as a discipline."

Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" (1960)

Battle first saw Ailey's "Revelations" when he was 12; he was on a class field trip to a performance of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Miami, Florida. "I saw it and it inspired me. I was in awe of what I saw," said Battle. "And it took me from there seeing that vision to now being at the helm. So there's a direct connection between what people see and how it can inspire them."

Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey presents
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
November 16 - 19, 2011
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

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Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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