Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater announced on Thursday that Robert Battle, its artistic director since 2011, is resigning from the position, citing health concerns.
Battle’s sudden departure comes on the cusp of the company’s annual holiday season at New York City Center, which begins Nov. 29. Matthew Rushing, Ailey’s associate artistic director, will lead the company until the board of trustees completes a search for a new director. Battle’s resignation is effective immediately, though he will remain available to the board of trustees through the end of the year.
“Robert Battle has served the Ailey organization with talent, verve and distinction over the past dozen years,” Daria Wallach, chair of the Ailey board of trustees, wrote in a statement. “We offer him our warmest gratitude.”
Battle, 51, declined a phone interview but answered questions over email. He wrote that the decision was “incredibly difficult” and noted recent deaths in his family and an awareness of his mother’s aging. “I am going to spend more time with my family, and I am going to focus on my health,” he wrote, but he did not specify those health concerns or give further reasons for the suddenness of his departure. “The Ailey company is in a great place artistically and the bond with our audience is stronger than ever. That’s why I feel this is the moment when I can take the step I need to take.”
Battle was just the third artistic director in the history of the Ailey company, which was founded in 1958. During his tenure, Battle maintained Ailey classics, keeping Ailey’s signature masterpiece, “Revelations” (1960), on the majority of programs. But he also transformed the repertory, commissioning pieces by Kyle Abraham, the hip-hop master Rennie Harris and Ronald K. Brown, allowing them to take on difficult subjects like gun violence and mass incarceration.
Along with supplying a few dances of his own, Battle also brought in works by unexpected choreographers, including Paul Taylor, Ohad Naharin and Wayne McGregor. And in 2019, he chose Jamar Roberts, a dancer in the company, as its first resident choreographer, discovering and nurturing one of today’s most acclaimed voices.
Battle grew up in Miami, where he attended the New World School of the Arts. After graduating from Juilliard, he performed with Parsons Dance from 1994 to 2001 and began choreographing for that company. From 2002 until taking the position with Ailey, he led his own troupe, Battleworks Dance Company.
In an interview in 2021, while assessing his first 10 years at Ailey, Battle said that he felt ready to lead another 10 years.
In his recent email, Battle wrote that he remained proud of expanding the repertory and encouraging emerging choreographers. “Of course I’m proud of the work I did with the dancers,” he added, “but it would be more accurate to say that I’m proud of the dancers. I’m just awe-struck thinking of what they do, every one of them.”