That character was shaped by a strong allegiance to the aesthetic and ideals of its storied founder, Alvin Ailey, who died in 1989, that was maintained by his successor,
But that allegiance, and the popularity it has engendered, has sometimes brought criticism that the troupe is in an artistic rut. Its current artistic director, Liberty City native
They include contemporary ballet choreographer
Battle credits Ailey with creating a repertory company open to a wide range of styles.
"It gives you the opportunity to be expansive in all directions," the
"The sky's the limit, and there are some things I'm interested in that I'm building up to. ... Through having work that is a little bit different, you start to make space to become even more adventurous."
Chroma is probably the most daring new entry. McGregor, a hot contemporary ballet choreographer, made it in 2006 for the
Battle says he encountered some skepticism about tackling a ballet piece, just as when the company premiered Petite Morte by Jiri Kylian, an acclaimed European ballet choreographer, last year. He thinks that reaction stems not only from doubts about whether modern dancers have the technical chops to dance a ballet piece, but from longtime -- and often unconscious -- skepticism about African Americans doing classical work -- especially a troupe renowned for the down-home gospel fervor of Revelations.
"There's a certain idea about what an Ailey dancer can and should dance," Battle says. "African-American people and artists have been dealing with that for a very long time."
McGregor was not one of those skeptics. "He'd seen the company a lot growing up," says Battle. "It's something he always wanted to do."
"He was very excited to see the way we moved and to see his work on a company like Ailey," she says. "We all felt very comfortable."
Even as Battle pushes the company in new directions, he is also committed to keeping it connected to its roots. A Saturday matinee program is made up of Alvin Ailey works set to the music of
Brown, 47, choreographed his first piece in second grade after seeing the Ailey troupe in Revelations. When he made Grace, his first piece for the company, in 1999, it was partly to say thank you.
"I was just so grateful to
Brown's polyrhythmic, fluid mix of African, club and modern dance is far different from the muscular Horton and Graham techniques that are the basis for the company's style. But the sense of purpose and spirituality that Brown demands from the dancers fit well with the company's ethos.
"There's a clarity to have spirit in everything you do, and not putting your ego first," Brown says. "That approach is something a lot of [the dancers] have."
Four Corners is based on a biblical passage that tells of four angels in the four corners of the world, and Brown sees it as a sort of metaphorical pilgrimage. "It's kind of a wish I have that if we all prayed ... we could make peace happen," he says. "You have to have that intention in how we move."
Jones, whose work with partner
But Jones also admired the man who had paved the way for black modern dancers and choreographers. "Bill T said Alvin protected him," Battle says.
An open-handed gesture in D Man is taken from the "Wade in the Water" section of Revelations. And Jones made D-Man as AIDS was decimating the dance community. Jones himself became HIV positive, and Zane, his longtime personal and choreographic partner, died of the disease in 1988. D-Man was dedicated to dancer
Though the Ailey company has been centered on works by its founder, it has always commissioned dances by other artists, both cutting-edge and mainstream.
Barton, who has made dances for Baryshnikov,
"I was surprised at their willingness -- we were in this together," Barton says. "The work is really detailed, there are a lot of layers ... and they were really diligent and helpful with each other. At the end of the rehearsals I felt this elation -- like I had extra air in my body."
Being so much a part of the creative process was new for the dancers, says Mack. "We always want to do it right, but she wasn't looking for us to do it right," Mack says. "She was looking for us to say the things she wanted us to say with the movement."
From Barton's open-minded process to finding that she could hoist a man on high in D-Man, Mack says this season has pushed her and the rest of the company beyond their already considerable limits.
"What's really wonderful about being here is I stretch myself farther than I thought I could, and every year I'm challenged to redefine myself as a dancer and redefine what I think I can do," Mack says. "And I'm always surprised."
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