Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, one of the world’s most beloved and popular dance companies, performs at the Merriam Theater Jan. 30–Feb. 1 under the leadership of the new artistic director Robert Battle. Battle succeeded Judith Jamison as artistic director after her departure on July 1, 2011.
Jamison said that “choosing Robert Battle is the giant leap I want to take to ensure that this company stays vibrant in the future.”
Battle, a Juilliard alum, had a long association with the Ailey organization and had danced with other fine companies before forming his own Battleworks Dance Company in 2002. Among his other powerful dances, Battle created a piece called “In/Side” with young dancer Samuel Lee Roberts, a dance Roberts claims to be very, very proud of.”
Roberts says performing at one of the final performances of Battleworks proved a turning point in his life. “That’s when Ms. Jamison saw me, loved the solo dance, and began talking about me possibly auditioning for her company. At the time, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I was a little self-doubting. But I talked it over with some friends who were very encouraging, so I decided to audition and got the job. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am. This experience is absolutely amazing.”
Growing up in Quakertown, Roberts says his love of dance actually began at the age of 10 when he attended a dance class with his cousin, Janine. Deciding to go with her, Roberts says he was so intrigued by what he saw that he decided to take lessons as well and hasn’t stopped dancing since that day.
“She studied at a small studio called Dance Works — where eventually I began to study too. I remember everything was warm and inviting, and when the teacher saw me fidgeting she invited me to come up and join in. And I will never forget the absolute joy I felt for the next 45 minutes.”
And that joy has continued ever since. Roberts eventually studied at Juilliard, and later danced with a number of companies, including the Rockettes. He also became a founding member of Battleworks. And now, of course, he is in his fourth season with the Alvin Ailey troupe. During the company’s run in Philadelphia, Roberts is scheduled to be featured in Battle’s ”Strange Humors,” Paul Taylor’s “Arden Court” and Rennie Harris’ “Home.”
The company was founded by Alvin Ailey in New York in 1958, and its original mission remains the same, according to Roberts. “Ailey believed that art was for the people and should be delivered back to the people. And no matter who is in charge, I think that goal will always remain the same.
“And being part of this company, with its legacy so powerful and great, challenges all of us to rise to the high standard that was created before us.”
While enjoying his role in such a prestigious company very much, Roberts, who has also done some film and TV work, admits that acting has become a dream of his.
“So has returning some day to my hometown to perhaps taking over the dance studio where I once studied. I come from a community that really supported me and helped me get to where I am today. So I’d like to give back to that community whenever I can.”