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Robert Battle

Marymount Mahattan College recently announced that it will honor Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Artistic Director Robert Battle with the degree of Doctor of Arts in recognition of his accomplishments in dance and strikingly physical choreography that have earned him a global reputation as a pioneering force in the arts.

From the official press release:

"Over the years, Mr. Battle has provided Marymount Manhattan students with transformative opportunities to stretch beyond their curricula.  He staged The Hunt, one of his signature works that is a grueling feat of physical stamina, Promenade, a poignant satire on societal norms and aristocracy, and finally, Channels, which had its premiere in the Theresa Lang Theatre and has since been presented at several other undergraduate dance programs.  It was during the performances of Channels that Mr. Battle’s appointment as the Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was publicly announced.  In addition, Mr. Battle has employed MMC alumni in his Battleworks Dance Company."

The 66th Commencement Exercises of Marymount Manhattan College will take place on Friday, May 22, 2015 at 4:30pm at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Left: Robert Battle rehearsing his work The Hunt with Ailey dancers Jamar Roberts and Antonio Douthit-Boyd. Photo by Paul Kolnik. Right: Mr. Battle, right, with in rehearsal at the Ailey Studios with Bill T. Jones. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.



This week, Fox News profiled Artistic Director Robert Battle for their special series celebrating Black History Month. Mr. Battle opens up about physical challenges he faced as a child, the drive behind his success (he is "always curious, always moving forward"), and the Ailey legacy. "It’s important to remind everyone that we are more alike than unalike," Mr. Battle says. "That sounds simple, but it’s at the core of what is needed."



Robert Battle became Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in July 2011 after a long-standing association as choreographer.  In addition to expanding the repertory, he instituted the New Directions Choreography Lab for the next generation of choreographers. Battle studied at Miami’s New World School of the Arts, The Juilliard School, and danced with Parsons Dance Company before founding Battleworks Dance Company. He was honored by Kennedy Center and Princess Grace Foundation-USA. Battleworks subsequently performed extensively at venues including The Joyce Theater, Dance Theater Workshop, American Dance Festival, and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Most recently, in 2014, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Arts. He is a sought-after keynote speaker and has addressed a number of high-profile organizations, including the United Nations Leaders Programme and the UNICEF Senior Leadership Development Programme.

In November 2014, Artistic Director Robert Battle accepted from President Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of Alvin Ailey at the White House. President Obama bestowed the nation’s highest civilian honor nearly 25 years after the legendary founder’s passing for his contributions to the arts and our culture and said “through him, African-American history was told in a way that it had never been told before -- with passionate, virtuoso dance performances that transfixed audiences worldwide.”  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater carries on his pioneering legacy of inspiring, uniting and celebrating the human spirit and is currently on its 2015 US Tour across the country.


You asked, and Artistic Director Robert Battle has the answers. In our three-part Facebook Fan Question series, get inside Robert's head and discover his thoughts on choreography, music, artistic leadership, the future of dance, and more.

Part 1: Choreography
Part 2: Artistic Leadership & Music

Robert Battle on the Future of Dance, Other Passions, and How to Embrace Setbacks

The Company in Love Stories, choreographed by Judith Jamison, Rennie Harris and Robert Battle. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Imuru Barbel asks:
What innovations/trends in dance do you foresee in the next 10 years?

I’m not sure what I see in terms of innovations and trends, because that’s hard to predict. But I can say to you that things sort of repeat themselves. Some of it is because we often don’t understand our own history as dancers and choreographers. And so, when we don’t understand that, we don’t recognize that certain things have happened before and what we do is a sort of reimagining. You really have to understand that every step you do has probably been done before. How an individual conceives the step is what makes it new and different. I know that I’m excited about where I see dance now and where I see dance going. I just hope I can be a part of it.

Healthy Can be Done! *Natural Fit Life* asks: 
What are your other favorite things/passions, beside dancing?

I like watching other performers, especially singers. I like watching people express themselves artistically in a different way that’s perhaps a little more mysterious to me because it is not something I do all the time. I like watching other artists in other mediums because it informs my own artistry in a new way. When I take a voice lesson, the imagery the teacher uses to get a certain sound out me sometime relates to dance in a way, so it gives me another way to talk about it. Someone who was teaching me once said that if you go for a high note, you don’t reach for the note; you stay grounded. She used the example of getting on an elevator: the elevator goes up, but you don’t. That told me a lot, not only about dancing, but about life.

Staci Addison asks: 
If dance was not part of your life, what would you spend your time doing?

I’m not sure what I’d I spend my time doing. That’s hard to say when you do it as much as I do and tour as much as the Ailey company does. I love it and it’s hard to imagine it not being a part of my life. I’d probably be singing somewhere. Who knows, maybe I’d probably be a concert pianist, or a preacher. That’s what I really wanted to do when I was little! I wanted to be a preacher. It’s really not that different from what I do now [laughs]. And maybe watch television every now and then.

Treyon Michaelangelo Sargent asks: 
What is your advice to those who wish to soon have the same success as yourself but get discouraged at times?

You have to embrace the notion that you’re going to get discouraged. I think that when you embrace these experiences as though they are a part of life, then you can expect to feel discouraged at times and it might still hurt, but you are not going to be surprised when you feel it. I think everything that you need to deal with discouragement is built into what we do as dancers. The way we take class, the structure, the way we have to face ourselves in the mirror even when we don’t like what we see. We have to take a look at it and see if we can correct it or if someone can help us correct it. Think about the way a dance class is structured, in term of having a small task that you have to complete, like a plié: it has a beginning, middle, and end. You keep doing these small tasks along the way that, by the end, get larger and larger. So now you’re in the center, and you’re doing a longer adagio, and now you’re doing things across the floor. Whatever it is, it’s built into that same structure that you apply to your career. Many people who you think are the greatest dancers and artist of the world can tell you many stories of when they felt defeated. As Maya Angelou once said, “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.” So hold on to that quote, because I certainly do.

Robert Battle onstage at the Apollo Theater. Photo by Christopher Duggan



You asked, and Artistic Director Robert Battle has the answers. In our three-part Facebook Fan Question series, get inside Robert's head and discover his thoughts on choreography, music, artistic leadership, the future of dance, and more.

Part 1: Choreography
Part 3: The Future of Dance & Staying Resilient

Robert Battle on Artistic Leadership

Robert Battle with the Company. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Owen Edwards asks: 
What draws your attention to a dancer in an audition room? What qualities capture your eyes first? Also, what makes you turn your eye away from a dancer in the audition room?

I really look for a dancer that has the technical proficiency to do what they are asked to do, of course. But I also try to look at a dancer, like Alvin Ailey said, that can express what is strange and different and unique, or even ugly, about the dance itself. Dancing is a vehicle to express oneself. So if all I see is movement and not the person moving, then that doesn’t interest me. I’m really interested in how this dancer is able to communicate through the movement. This goes back to the notion that we do all of this to speak to one another. So if the only thing you can do is execute the steps, then it won’t hold my attention. Sometimes you can draw that out of a dancer, and sometimes that’s just not that dancer’s particular interest. And that’s okay too.  

Nicola White asks: 
How important is it to keep the Ailey company's past alive as well as combining it with a direction for the future and how do you try and achieve this?

It’s important to keep the past of the Ailey company alive, because the past is the present. I don’t see any distance between then and now. When I think about a great work of art, it endures, and it is timeless. If it was true then, then it is true now, and it speaks to the audience as it speaks to me. The past is not a burden; it’s the reason why we are here in the first place, so I embrace this rich history of this marvelous company. How do I achieve that? By always challenging and engaging the audience, challenging and engaging the dancers, and finding work that falls in line with that mission. And, by certainly remembering the oft repeated quote by Mr. Ailey himself, who said that “Dance comes from the people and should always be delivered back to the people.” Judith Jamison carried that torch, and now I carry it. I try to do things that come from my own instinct and heart, and that’s how I achieve it. But as for the future, the story hasn’t been totally written yet – I’m still living it. So we’ll see. Ask me in 20 years.

Robert Battle on Music


Kirven James Boyd in Robert Battle's Takademe. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Linda Edmonds-Lima asks: 
What music genre is your favorite to dance and choreograph to and why?

Generally, I like percussion because it moves me. It’s very much in your face – you have to deal with percussion in a way that’s very immediate and I love that. But I love all types of music, from classical to experimental. For one dance I choreographed, Takademe, the music is very different – it’s set to Indian Kathak rhythms. One time, an audience member said to me, “Your music is everything from Bach to bongos.” I like that! And I find that that is true – different types of music challenge me in different ways. I started as a musician by playing piano when I was very little, so I had an appreciation for music at an early age. So music is really what moves me, but all types.

Alena Dancerchk Logan asks: 
When choreographing a dance which comes to you first, the music or the movement?

Usually the music is the catalyst and the movement sort of pours out of that. Generally, I don’t choreograph in silence; it’s a response to a piece of music. And I try not to just imitate the music – I try to add my own voice through the dance as if I were another musician performing the score.


You asked, and Artistic Director Robert Battle has the answers. In our three-part Facebook Fan Question series, get inside Robert's head and discover his thoughts on choreography, music, artistic leadership, the future of dance, and more.

Part 2: Artistic Leadership & Music
Part 3: The Future of Dance & Staying Resilient

Robert Battle on Choreography

Jessica A. Yirenkyi asks:
Describe the moment when you know/feel that your choreography is "ready" to be showcased to the public or performed.

You never really know when your choreography is ready. I think that you are always a little insecure about it. Usually, I don’t know until somebody else is in the studio watching it and I can feel the exchange between the viewer and the work. That lets me know whether or not it is ready, just by the energy in the room. But you’re never finished. It never feels complete in your own mind. You always think, “Oh, maybe I could have done that a little bit better,” and that’s just the nature of being a creative person.

Victoria Gwinn asks:
Do you ever get nervous when presenting your work?

I’m always nervous presenting work. I think once you get to the point where you’re not worried about presenting work or dancing or performing, I think you should probably look at a new career move. I’m always nervous, because of course there is that side of you that wants people to like what you do. I think that’s inherent in any performer, even if they don’t say so.  But then again, I try just to support the dancers who are doing the work and so I try not to let them feel my nervousness and only my support, because at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.

Rebecca DeButts Covington asks:
Do you ever feel the need to create work that will connect with your audience members or do you focus on other goals when you work?

I always want to make work – and to see work – that connects with the audience. I think one of the cornerstones of the Ailey company is that we connect with our audience; that’s why we have had such a vast audience for so many years. To me, the single most important thing about being a choreographer or dancer is communication. If the work does not communicate, to me it is not successful. That’s how I view it. It doesn’t mean that the audience has to love everything that you do, but just feel and experience what you do in a way that is visceral.

Ronald Bailey asks:
Where does your inspiration come from?

For me, inspiration comes from my dancers. These are some of the most marvelous dancers in the world that I get a chance to work with, and that inspires me to choose repertory I want to see them do. As a choreographer, I’m interested in what they think physically, and what their experiences are physically – that inspires me. So the inspiration really is, once again, people. Rather, it’s people doing some courageous act; that human quality is always what I connect with.


Above: Artistic Director Robert Battle rehearsing Takademe with the Company. Below: Robert Battle rehearsing Strange Humors with Antonio Douthit and Jamar Roberts. Photos by Paul Kolnik

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