Alvin Ailey Dance Theater brings new and traditional works to Atlanta for Black History Month

The world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to Atlanta's Fox Theatre to perform Feb. 16-19. (Courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

 The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is based in New York, but we like to think of Atlanta as their second home. The world-renowned dancers have been coming to Atlanta every year since 1976, and they’ll return to the Fox Theatre to perform Feb. 16-19. Robert Battle is the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and he joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the troupe’s upcoming performances, including Ailey’s acclaimed work “Revelations.”

Interview highlights:

A new original work exploring contemporary and classic music in dance:

“One of the works that I’m excited about is a world premiere by Kyle Abraham, who’s a brilliant choreographer who received the MacArthur Genius Award, to name a few – that would be enough – but he’s done this wonderful work for us called ‘Are You In Your Feelings?,’ which, I love that the work asks the question in the vernacular, and I think we’ve all been in our feelings in one way or another these past few years, but this work is great because it celebrates a kind of cross-generational scope.”

“[Abraham] likes to think of this work as a kind of mixtape for you young folks, a cassette tape or just a mixtape of different genres of music, meaning the music ranges from Kendrick Lamar to Drake to the Flamingos, that wonderful song ‘I Only Have Eyes For You,'” Battle said. “There’s something in it for everybody to delight in, especially the sound, but also the dance itself, which is somewhat of a love story. In fact, when he was creating the dance, Kyle Abraham, I can’t… count the amount of times that people said, ‘I can’t wait ’til we bring this to Atlanta. Because what we like about Atlanta is, people respond vocally to what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing, and so we’re looking forward to that.”

A gem from the revolutionary Ailey canon:

“[The company will perform] a serious work called ‘Survivors’ that Alvin AiIey created in 1986 as a response to Nelson Mandela being thrown in jail for being a freedom fighter, and he was really affected by that, and he had his own sense of rage about the injustice, and how it mirrors the injustices in our own country,” said Battle. “When he made it, at that time, no one knew that Nelson Mandela would ever be released, because he had a life sentence. So it’s a work that hasn’t been seen in about 30 or so years, but I thought it was appropriate to bring it back now… to remind people that this company is not just there to entertain, but also to educate.”

“I wanted to re-stage it to remind people that Alvin Ailey has always been relevant – him as a choreographer, us as a dance company, that we use our voices in our art as weapons for change, but also to bring people together. And I think during the Black Lives Matter movement, when it was at its height, I wanted to remind people that Alvin Ailey was a living embodiment of that notion a long time ago when he founded this company in 1958 on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement…. In fact, when they were performing the work, and I remember it was at a theater in Florida that got violent threats that if we performed the work… that something might happen, and the decision had to be made, whether they were going to carry on or not…and they did perform the work, because they thought that it was important to stand against that kind of threat.” 

The company’s traditional closing piece, Ailey’s iconic “Revelations:”

“It is  the eighth wonder of the world to me,” said Battle. “You know, it’s interesting, because some might think ‘Well, isn’t that hard to have to close with ‘Revelations’ all the time?’ Trust me, if lots of other companies had a work like ‘Revelations,’ they would do the same, but we have ‘Revelations.’ ‘Revelations’ was created by Alvin Ailey in 1960. It’s a suite of spirituals, negro spirituals that have to do with our survival, it really does – the role that the spiritual played in getting African-Americans through, Black people through the atrocities of hate and discrimination, racism, because it has to do with faith for a better tomorrow.”

He added, “Yes, it is about suddenly very specific, but it turns out to be universal, that no matter who sees it, no matter what you believe, what God you pray to or not, there is this universal message of hope, of the tenacity of the human spirit, and it just brings people together. It’s like a happening. It’s a tradition, in a way.”

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre Feb. 16-19. Tickets and more information are available at here.