On February 2nd, Toronto was graced by a unique showcase of modern dance. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater kicked off their 2012 North American Tour in Toronto at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. The company was formed in 1958 under the vision of choreographer and dancer Alvin Ailey. Ailey, born in 1931, grew up during the great depression; a troubled time of racial segregation, violence & financial struggle. He entered the world of dance when he joined Lester Horton’s company in 1953. When Horton passed away the same year, the 22-year old Ailey took up the helm of Artistic Director. After a few short years in NYC, Ailey left to showcase his own art with his own company. Alvin Ailey passed away in 1989 but his legacy and teachings continue to live on through his successors. Judith Jamison, an award winning artist in her own rank, began her journey with the dance company in 1965. For 15 years, until her departure in 1980, she took part in some of the most magical dance spectacles to grace the stage. She returned in 1988 as an artistic associate before taking on the role of artistic director after Ailey’s death. For 21 years she gave it her all and in July of 2011, she personally selected and passed on the torch to someone else.
That someone else is Robert Battle. From Miami, Florida, Battle dabbled in the arts from a very young age. His academic journey took him from Miami’s New World School of the Arts to the dance program of The Juilliard School in NYC. He then danced for the Parsons Dance Company between 1994 and 2001, choreographing from 1998 onwards. He has been associated with the Ailey dance school for a very long time, being an artist in-residence since 1999 and choreographing many works. After his journey with Parson’s, he began his own company: Battleworks, which has performed all across the world, introducing his very unique style. Battle has truly left a mark as an artist. His coveted awards include the 2005 honor by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as one of the “Masters of African American Choreography” and the 2007 Statue Award by the Princess Grace Foundation-USA. In 2010 he was a guest speaker at the United Nations Leaders Programme in Turin, Italy.
During the tour stop in Toronto, I was able to have a short conversation with Robert Battle himself. A well-spoken gentleman, he shared with me his journey, the important people in his life and some very important advice to those wishing to pursue a career in the arts. Do see the interview below. Don’t forget to check back to see my interview with Yannick Lebrun, one of the dancers on the show.