Choreographer Alvin Ailey launched his career in 1958 in a small New York hall with a troupe of eight dancers. By the early 1980s, spurred on by a coterie of Kansas City enthusiasts and arts patrons, he had planted a flag in Kansas City, bringing his company for regular performances and starting educational outreach programs that have grown exponentially ever since.
On Wednesday, the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey celebrated that fruitful relationship and watched a baton being passed.
Judith Jamison, the celebrated dancer and choreographer who has led the company since Ailey’s death in 1989, introduced her successor as artistic director, Robert Battle, who’ll officially take over in July.
"Retirement doesn’t mean retirement," Jamison told a breakfast audience at the Kansas City Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom. "It means redirection. You retire when you die."
Jamison made it clear she will remain much involved in spreading her passion for dance and dance education.
And Battle, 38, a veteran of Kansas City native David Parsons’ dance group, made it clear he’s ready for his new role.
He recalled how he first saw the Ailey dancers while a 12-year-old schoolboy in Florida -- most memorable was Ailey’s signature piece "Revelations." And all these years later, he has been accompanying the troupe on most of its current 50-city tour.
As the company’s third artistic director, Battle knows the drill, as did Jamison: Continue Ailey’s vision of artistry, integrity and outreach.
Jamison noted that Kansas City was home to the first Ailey Camp, a summer training program for younger teens that served as a model for nine more camps across the nation -- and has touched the lives of thousands of Kansas City children since 1989.
With the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts nearby, some Ailey-inspired dancers from Paseo Academy and elsewhere showed off their poise and pirouettes.
Debby Ballard, president of the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, noted that the main Ailey company -- now 30 dancers strong -- will take up its biannual Kansas City residency in the new theater there Nov. 14-20 (For ticket information: www.kcfaa.org).
Battle and Jamison, who recently brought a big new Ailey dance center and headquarters to fruition in New York, were scheduled to tour the Kauffman later in the day.
A new theater doesn’t change the way the Ailey dancers work, Jamison said, though she has been admiring the Kauffman Center from afar.
Said Battle: "I know the dancers will be excited about being there."
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