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Alvin Ailey at Lincoln Center for First Time in 13 Years

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Alvin Ailey

When Robert Battle first arrived at New York’s Lincoln Center years ago, he was a dance student with a scholarship to Juilliard. On his first day, he walked up to the building he thought was the school. It turned out to be the Metropolitan Opera House.

This past week, Battle arrived at Lincoln Center in a far different capacity – as artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, one of the most-loved dance companies in the world. He was bringing the company to its first engagement at Lincoln Center – one of the premier dance addresses in the world – in 13 years.

“This time I’m pretty sure I’m in the right place,” Battle, always ready with a smile and a quip, told the opening-night audience at the David H. Koch Theater. “I saw my name on the poster outside.”

Battle, appointed two years ago, has the tricky job of projecting the gravitas needed to follow his famous predecessor, Judith Jamison, who held the job for more than two decades and carved a place in dance history, and at the same time injecting fresh life into the company, via new works and ideas.

One of those new works had its world premiere recently, a dance with strong African influences called “Four Corners” by choreographer Ronald K. Brown, set largely to music by Carl Hancock Rux. (The title refers to four angels standing on four corners of the Earth.) Battle says Brown’s longstanding ties with the company made him a natural choice to launch a new work for the Lincoln Center gig; coming off a long national tour, the dancers had just three weeks to learn it.

“Because of Ron’s relationship with the company and the amount of time we had, it made sense not to be starting the conversation fresh (with someone else),” Battle said. “His work is so deep and soulful and grounded. It sits well with the dancers’ style, and there’s also something about his spirit – soothing, energizing, intelligent and warm. But there’s also a smoldering tension in his work.”

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