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At Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Robert Battle era begins

May 12, 2011 | 12:03 pm

Battle Six weeks before he officially takes over as head of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Robert Battle announced his repertory plans for the company’s 2011-2012 season, as well as a new choreography laboratory “that is about process, not product” Battle emphasized Thursday morning in a spacious studio at the company’s Manhattan building.

A world premiere by Rennie Harris inspired by the stories of people living with AIDS will premiere on Dec. 1 (World AIDS Day) as part of the company’s annual five-week New York City season. The company will perform its first Paul Taylor work, his 1981 “Arden Court,” as well as Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16.”

The New Directions Choreography Lab, which will launch in the fall, offers four emerging to mid-level choreographers seven-week residencies during which they work with dancers from the Ailey School and receive rehearsal space, stipends and the freedom to experiment without the pressure to produce a work on deadline. As a choreographer himself, Battle admitted jokingly to being “jealous” as he introduced the first four choreographers selected for the lab: Adam Barruch, Camille Brown, Joanna Kotze and Malcolm Low. Each will be paired with a “creative advisor” -– a veteran choreographer who will mentor them.

Battle, who has been artistic director designate for the last year after being selected by Judith Jamison, who had led the company since Alvin Ailey’s death in 1989, officially takes charge on July 1.

This time of transition is also marked by a significant change in the company’s 31-member roster: nine dancers are leaving when the current national tour ends on May 22.

In addition to new dancers who will be joining the troupe, Alicia Graf, who danced with the company from 2005 to 2008, will return.

Matthew Rushing, the leading Ailey dancer who had cut back on his performances since becoming the troupe’s rehearsal director, will be back on stage more often next season, according to Masazumi Chaya, the longtime (and continuing) associate artistic director. (During her remarks Thursday before she introduced Battle, Jamison noted that Chaya, who joined as a dancer in 1972, will mark his 40th year with Ailey next season.)

Battle’s repertory plans for 2011-12 also include “Takedeme”-- a solo Battle choreographed in 1999, which will be performed by men and women -- and new productions of Ailey’s “Streams,” from 1970, and Joyce Trisler’s 1958 solo “Journey,” last performed in 1990. Jamison introduced Battle, whom she said had become like “a younger brother” to her, as “a young man who sometimes reminds me of Alvin Ailey; he understands the integrity of this organization."


A conversation with the male dancers of Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey dances into Los Angeles with a Hancock Park party

-- Susan Reiter

Photo: Robert Battle takes over as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on July 1. Credit: Kevin P. Casey / For the Los Angeles Times