Since becoming artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011, Robert Battle has not focused on moving the company in a single direction.
"I think it's many directions," Battle says by phone from Chicago. "But I think it's also very much in line with what Mr. Ailey (founder/artistic director, deceased) and then Judith Jamison (former Ailey dancer and past artistic director) had in mind, in terms of celebrating past, present and future."
He is certain, however, that he has expanded on the original vision and mission of the company, in his own way.
"So I think the tradition remains the same in terms of celebrating those past works that tell the stories of how we got here in the first place, as a company and as a people. ... But also looking at other choreographers' work and bringing new and different voices to the company, to the repertory."
The company, which returns to the Detroit Opera House Thursday for a four-day run, includes the classic "Revelations," and new works "Bad Blood" by Ulysses Dove, "Polish Pieces" by Dutch choreographer Hans van Manen, and "After the Rain" by Christopher Wheeldon, whom Battle says is known as a classical ballet choreographer.
The new piece Battle is most excited about is choreographer Matthew Rushing's "Odetta." It is based on the life of the late folk singer Odetta Holmes, whom Battle says used her voice as a weapon of change during the Civil Rights Movement.
To capture the essence and breadth of Odetta's work, the piece includes work songs, spirituals, and songs of protest, dancer Megan Jakel says.
Jakel, a six-year Ailey member, dances a solo in "Odetta" to the song "Glory, Glory," which she says stretched her skills.
"So if you're familiar with the song, it's very slow," says the Waterford native. "I've very sprite and fast, and it's been an amazing role for me to dance because Matthew basically just left it up to me.
"He said, 'I'm not going to give you any timing. Just finish here.' So every night I dance this role I do something different. Which is really fun for me. 'Cause I get to make choices and get into the grit of her voice and tell a story within that."
Andrea Daniel is a Detroit-based freelance writer.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Detroit Opera House
1526 Broadway, Detroit