Lawrence Jackson, a George Mason University School of Dance associate professor, explained why it’s so significant to have contemporary professional choreographers like Robert Battle produce works for the school’s 2023 Dance Company Gala Concert.
“Robert Battle is the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), but he's also a choreographer of his own right,” Jackson said. “[Battle] is a choreographic genius and living legend.”
Battle’s “Awakening,” along with works by others, were performed by Mason dance students at the gala concert in March.
“It’s a really unique piece, because it was the first dance that Battle created after he became the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater,” said Karen Reedy, director of Mason’s School of Dance.
In Battle’s “Awakening,” Reedy said, “there's a solo figure that emerges from the group symbolizing himself and all the feelings that go along with that of being chosen to lead the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and this community of people that has such a legacy.”
Junior dance major Morgan Olschewske is one of 12 students who performed Battle’s piece, and one of 42 student performers overall, including understudies.
“A couple of us female-identifying dancers were cast in male roles, which was also a cool thing because the dance is kind of gendered but also it doesn't really matter,” said Olschewske. “I am dancing the role of current company dancer, Yannick Lebrun. Yannick is this gigantic man, and I'm like 5 feet 4 inches, so I was honored to get cast as such a larger-than-life dancer.”
Battle visited Mason’s dance students and offered artistic insight into the work, while former AAADT dancer Elisa Clark acting as a choreographic tutor known as a repetiteur.
“Elisa is an incredible stager,” Reedy said. “She's danced most of the works created by Robert Battle. She's his right hand and has done this incredible job of sharing this work.”
Olschewske agreed, calling Elisa “one of the most thorough individuals I ever worked with in terms of knowing everything about the choreography.”
The Gala included of four performances split into two acts. “Awakening,” an 18-minute piece, closed the first half to a standing ovation, said Reedy.
“It was quite gripping for the audience. I believe that many resonated with this very cathartic work,” she said.
The gala is one of the School of Dance’s biggest annual events. Prospective students are often invited.
“If students are on the fence about wanting to join the School of Dance, this concert pushes them over and they're [excited] to come to Mason,” said Jackson. “I was invited to come to one of these concerts, and it's actually what convinced me to accept my position here.”
“This was my first time meeting [Robert Battle], and it was certainly the highlight of my career,” said Jackson. “One of the reasons I was attracted to the School of Dance is its reputation for hosting an array of eminent and emerging artists, providing artistic inspiration and networking opportunities for Mason students and faculty alike.”