Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Truth Marches On

The 2011-2012 season of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater marked a new chapter in its vivid, far-reaching history when Robert Battle took the helm.  Battle, the second person to become Artistic Director for the company since the passing of its founder in 1989, officially began his tenure in July 2011 after Judith Jamison transitioned to the role of Artistic Director Emerita.   Previous to her 21 years of brilliantly preserving Alvin Ailey and AAADT’s legacy, Jamison had indelibly woven her spirit into the fabric of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  As Ailey’s former muse and principal dancer, the choice to have one of AAADT’s most famous faces assume the position of Artistic Director was obvious, but Battles roots with Ailey also run deep.

Battle has been a periodic choreographer and artist-in-residence at Ailey since 1999.  The works he has choreographed include Anew, The Hunt, Juba, In/Side, Mood Indigo, Love Stories and Takedeme, with The Hunt, In/Side and Love Stories (a collaboration with Judith Jamison and Rennie Harris) included the company’s current repertory.  Like Ailey, Battle also possesses a southern background growing up in Liberty City, Florida.  He studied dance in high school before entering Miami’s New World School of the Arts and moving on to The Julliard School.  He joined the Parsons Dance Company, dancing with them from 1994 to 2001.  In 2002, he premiered his own company, Battleworks Dance Company, in Düsseldorf, Germany.  Along with the works he created for AAADT, Battle has also created and restaged ballets for Hubbard Street Repertory Ensemble, River North Chicago Dance Company, Koresh Dance Company, Introdans, PARADIGM, and Ballet Memphis. In 2005, he was the recipient of the “Masters of African American Choreography” by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Art and received the Statue Award from the Princess Grace Foundation-USA in 2007. 

Along with the changes Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s have experienced this season, the New York City Center, AAADT’s New York City performing home, has also undergone a reconstruction of its own.  This year marked the completion of the most extensive renovation project in the theater’s 70 year history.  The alterations included a video gallery located in the orchestra lobby and the restoration of the ceiling and mural designs.  The vibrancy that is felt in the new New York City Center definitely resonated on stage as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater passionately placed the exclamation point on Robert Battle’s inaugural season.

This season AAADT presents a intricate mosaic of works which includes the premieres of Battle’s Takedeme, a blistering progression of fast-paced movements and vigorous jumps set to the rhythms of an Indian Kathak dance and a jazz score, Minus 16, choreographed by Ohad Nahirin and Arden Court by Paul Taylor.  Along with these company premieres, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater also included the world premiere of Home by Rennie Harris.  Home, an inspirational homage to people living or affected by HIV set to gospel house music, was inspired by stories submitted to the “Fight HIV Your Way” contest, an initiative of Bristol-Myers Squibb.  Ulysses Dove’s Episodes, the late choreographer’s visceral tribute to the people that had passed through his life with AIDS, also appeared in this season’s repertory.

Ailey staples such as Cry, Night Creature, Memoria and Revelations also made an appearance this year.  Some people go to Paris for inspiration, others the Big Apple.  But me, all I need is my annual dose of Ailey.  For the first time since I could remember, I felt as if I was watching AAADT with a new set of eyes.  Robert Battle’s influence felt extremely tangible and refreshing.  I felt his exuberance in every performance I witnessed and especially in Revelations.  Each time I view it, another discovery shines through.  This time is was the joy; under the directorship of Battle, Revelations was more celebratory than it has ever been.  The waves of reciprocity between the company and the audience circle around the theater like a boomerang.  By the encore of “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” all I wanted to do was throw my hands up and say, “Glory hallelujah!”  The legacy of Alvin Ailey is in well deserved and capable hands.  I am excited to view Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s future with Robert Battle commandeering the most veracious dance company to ever exist.

Photos: Andrew Eccles and Paul Kolnik, Nan Melville

Mamma Mia Celebrates 10th Anniversary with Pizza and a Winter Sale

In October2001, a musical made its Broadway debut at the legendary Winter Garden Theatre.  It boogied onto U.S. shores in 2000 after conquering London and Toronto, first playing at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, then moving on to Los Angeles’ Shubert Theatre and lastly playing Chicago’s Cadillac Palace before bursting onto The Great White Way and globe-trotting to theatres all over the world.  The musical is based on a Swedish pop/dance group’s songbook, and if you have not guessed which musical I am referring to by now, I am talking about no other than Mamma Mia!, the international smash homage to ABBA. 

ABBA, comprised of Bjorn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson and Agnetha Faltskog, is one of the most successful groups in pop music history.  They were consistent chart toppers before disbanding in 1982.  The fourth best-selling music artists in the history of recorded music, ABBA sold over 370 million records worldwide and still sell approximately two to three million records per year.  Mamma Mia! was first conceived by producer Judy Craymer after meeting Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson in 1982.  She believed ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” showcased the theatrical ability of their music.  In 1997, Craymer enlisted Catherine Johnson to write the book and in 1998, Phyllida Lloyd signed on to be the show’s director.  Mamma Mia! first premiered in the West End at the Prince Edward Theatre on April 6, 1999.   In June 2004, it moved to the Prince of Wales Theatre, where it currently plays.  Since its London debut, Mamma Mia! has marched through the international theatre community like General Sherman on methamphetamines.   It even spawned a 2008 movie starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper and Christine Baranski. 

The musical takes place on the Greek Island of Calicos.  It is the day before 20-year-old Sophie’s wedding to Sky, her fiancé.  Her mother Donna is the proprietor of a taverna.  Before guests start arriving for the big day, Sophie confesses to her two best friends and bridesmaids that she has written letters to Sam, Bill, and Harry, the three men whom she believes could have fathered her.  She has a longing to know where she comes from, and desires her father to walk her down the aisle.  The only problem is she sent the letters under the guise of her mother and Donna has no idea that the three men will be coming to the wedding.  Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s ex-bandmates, are also there to help relieve the shock after Donna’s romantic past leaps off the pages of her journal and back into her life.   The wackiness that ensues after Sophie’s potential sperm donors arrive takes everyone through the changes of love and back and ends with a new beginning for Sophie and Donna, but not the one that either of them anticipated.  And of course the music of ABBA takes the audience through the journey, telling the narrative better than the characters themselves.  At the end of the show, the audience is treated with a super-sized ABBA encore with Donna, Tanya, Rosie, Sam, Bill and Harry performing “Dancing Queen”, “Mamma Mia, and “Waterloo” in ABBA-styled costumes.

A decade is long time for any production to stay on Broadway, especially considering the time in which the musical premiered.  It had only been a month since 9/11 and the theatre community suffered tremendous losses due to the lack of tourists.  Somehow, Mamma Mia! survived, perhaps it’s due to the music, which harkens back to an era where people felt free and orange alerts were non-existent.  This musical has created a world-wide phenomenon that is rarely seen today; it is safe to say that this light-hearted nod to love and the music of ABBA could be the musical of the first decade of the new millennium – and it is not done yet.  With 10 years on Broadway and no end in sight, Mamma Mia! is giving an early Christmas gift to ABBA fans with its first Winter Sale.  All orchestra seats have been discounted, ranging from $49 to $79, for performances from January 9 through March 4.  The ordering deadline is Christmas Eve so there is still time to take advantage of this opportunity.    In addition to the Winter Sale, Two Boots is offering it variation of dinner and a show with its brand new Mamma Mia! pizza.  Founded in the East Village by two indie filmmakers in 1987, Two Boots is a staple in New York City.  Their Hell’s Kitchen location, 624 9th Avenue, is known for their pizzas named after entertainers, within walking distance of the theatre, Two Boots serves to be a great finishing touch to an ABBA-filled evening.

Mamma Mia! is touted as being the ultimate feel-good show and over 50 million people around the world seem to agree.  I must admit it would be hard for anyone to walk into the Winter Garden Theatre with an attitude and not do a 180 upon walking out at the end of the show.  You can not help it, one of those ABBA songs is gonna get ya’ and if the music does not do it, then the energy will.  The audience is so lively, they will take you on their sequenced, bell bottom jumpsuit journey with them whether you like it or not.  Even a disco novice will be clapping by the encore.  The hawk approaches swiftly from around the corner; winter is almost here.  FAMERS, liven up your winter doldrums with a hot slice of pizza and a cool show.

Photos:  Bruce Glikas, Jenny Anderson, Serino Coyne


To purchase tickets for Mamma Mia!, click

To view Two Boots menu, click