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A forceful new work as the Alvin Ailey dance company changes leadership

April 2, 2011 |  9:30 am

AaPoised to change artistic directors for the first time in 21 years, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is taking careful, imaginative measures to introduce newcomer Robert Battle to its faithful audiences during the company's upcoming 10-day run at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The central calling card is the troupe's premiere of Battle’s “The Hunt” (2001), a chilling tour de force, heavy on the force, featuring a sextet of combative, bare-chested men in floor-length martial-arts-style skirts.

Also on the bill is “Anointed,” an eye-popping, lightning-fast, pure-dance ballet by Christopher L. Huggins that pays tribute to the company’s succession of directors, from founder Alvin Ailey to current powerhouse leader Judith Jamison to choreographer Battle, a respected –- if little known -- New York City dancer/choreographer who takes the helm on July 1.
On a recent Saturday in Seatttle, during the troupe’s current 24-city tour, five of the male dancers who perform “The Hunt” strolled into a makeshift studio in the bowels of the Fifth Avenue Theater for a quick photo shoot and interview. Kirven Boyd, Antonio Douthit, Yannik LeBrun, Jamar Roberts and Matthew Rushing were tired and a bit giddy after an opening night program that included “The Hunt,” “Anointed” and “Revelations” (that classic dance is celebrating its 50th year and will be featured on every program during this U.S. tour).

Near the end of the shoot, Battle himself joined in with the men to take a picture and share some of his excitement about assuming control of a $29-million dollar modern dance empire. ("I’m happy that it’s a big job. Cause I’m a big guy, and I like a challenge," he says.)
The dancers of “The Hunt” have sore feet and backs this morning. They are layered in sweats and puffy down booties branded with the Ailey name. There is a lot of foot rubbing and neck rolling as the dancers described “The Hunt” on the morning after its Seattle premiere. 

“There’s a lot of jumping and slapping and slamming,” explains veteran dancer Rushing (and newly named company rehearsal director). Some of Battle’s directives included: “Always being on the prowl, feeling like you’re predatory, always showing strength. At times he gave us images of almost being in a rave club, letting loose and going wild and not caring about technique or form –- just throwing out energy.”

“I feel like it's a thriller,” Antonio Douthit says. “It’s like being dropped in the Congo and all five of us are just trying to get out of there.”

To read the full Arts and Books article on changes at the venerable company, click here.

-- Jean Lenihan

Photo: Antonio Douthit, from left, Kirven Boyd, Matthew Rushing, Jamar Roberts and Yannick Lebrun during a recent rehearsal. Credit: Kevin P. Casey/For the Los Angeles Times