Entertainment » Theatre

Dancer Samuel Lee Roberts :: Diving Into Alvin Ailey’s World

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jan 30, 2013

Philadelphia dance legend Judith Jamison stepped down as artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011 and turned the director reins over to choreographer Robert Battle. Jamison introduced Battle to Philly audiences at a reception at the Academy of Music ballroom. He brings AAADT back to Philly this week with a broad of works to kick off an extensive US and International tour.

Emerging as one of the company's premier dancers is Samuel Lee Roberts, who joined in 2009. Speaking to EDGE, he recalled his first exposure to Ailey's work when he was a teenager growing up in Quakertown, PA, and seeing one of the company's signature works. "'Revelations' was amazing to see. It changed my life.

"When I graduated high school and got to New York, studying at the Julliard School, I would go see Ailey dancers at City Center, I just dove into the Ailey world," he said.

Today he is completely immersed. "We will be doing this 21-city tour, and then will be back in NY in the summer to work on new works, and then continue the tour in Europe and South America," he explained.

Physically dramatic dance

As to appointment of Battle, Roberts observed that "the dancers have really embraced him. He is so in tune with us as dancers, he knows our sensitivities and how he brings them out is so nurturing. Plus he likes physically dramatic dance, which I love. Battle is no only a dancer, but he is a singer and he plays the piano, so his musicality is so great."

The tour includes a piece that brought Roberts great attention and rave reviews called "In/Side," which Battle created for him. A New York Times review described Roberts’ performance in the piece as "an imposing physique that provides an ultimately touching contrast to the almost childlike mental terror that animates his dancing ... consistent power."

"I am eternally grateful. I’m really proud of it," Robert explained of the work. "Seeing other men do it at Ailey now, I see something new and more beautiful every time out."

Roberts will be dancing in several Battle ballets including "Strange Humors" which he describes as "a men’s duet about humor, aggression, friendship, love and openly expressed emotions."

The Philly performances also include Battle’s "Takademe," a Indian Kathak dance with an driving percussive score and explosive jumps. And choreographer Paul Taylor’s classic "Arden Court."

"(The piece has) such a different style than a lot of our stuff, but is such a classic that I think we’ve made our own... Of course, Taylor is so amazing to dance period."

Continuing "Revelations"

The company is also dancing Philadelphia choreographer Rennie Harris’ "HOME" inspired by the stories of people living with and affected by HIV,¬†which premiered on December 1, 2011, World Aids Day. December 1 is a day of remembrance for the company because Alvin Ailey died on December 1,1989 from complications of HIV.

The company continues to perform "Revelations." "We probably close with it 90 percent of the time on the tour. As a dancer, I find there is always something to discover. It’s a beautiful thing, there is so much there. Plus we do so much other work, so this is like having a good friend. It’s such a living piece, we always feel it with the audience."

Roberts has had time for other projects, including working with director Julie Taymor. He was also among the Ailey men featured in a dance fashion photo shoot in Out Magazine’s designs issue last year. "That was so much fun and we got to keep some of the outfits," he recalled.

Nor is it all work and no play for Roberts. "I try to go out when we are on tour. We travel with about 50 people, we’re a family and they’ve made touring an art form. But it is fun to step out every once in a while and check things out."

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performances at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia Jan 30-Feb 1, 2013. Information and tickets www.kimmelcenter.org | 215.893.1999.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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