2020 started as a promising year for the ever-growing dance scene in Atlanta, GA. The scrappy, innovative artists of this city kept pushing despite consistent lack of funding. January saw a strong start to the year with staibdance’s winter intensive, Root Theory, followed by the Atlanta Opera’s dazzling collaboration with dancers in their work Salome. DanceATL offered another community potluck, and Fly on the Wall’s first festival Excuse the Art, highlighted many independent movement artists.
However, in early spring COVID-19 stunted a growing season for many. Silence fell over the city, broken only by social injustices and political mayhem. Nevertheless, Atlanta stood up. We adjusted the sails and moved ahead as we always do. So after a year of dwelling in the unknown, here’s to the companies and individuals that continue to make Atlanta a city of inspiring and passionate artists.
IN PERSON PERFORMANCE
Dance Canvas (Angela Harris) and Atlanta Contemporary (Veronica Kessenich) partnered to bring an outdoor performance with twinkly lights under the summer sky. Their two-night showcase featured primarily choreographers of color. The works were powerful, poignant, and diverse in style and theme. Dance Canvas chose a unique path in the virtual dance world as well, offering Choreography Chats with past and present choreographers in an interview format.
In addition to their successful early March performance series, Fly on a Wall (core team includes Nicole Johnson, Nathan Griswold, Sean Nguyen-Hilton, Jimmy Joyner, Nicholas Goodly, and Christina Massad) shared their space at the Windmill (The Windmill Arts center is run by Sam Ross) with around 30 artists during the pandemic. We commend this organization for truly living out their mission by cutting and distributing pieces of Marley dance flooring for those dancing at home.
The Fall for Fall Dance Festival was a three-day outdoor performance held in multiple locations throughout the city to offer more accessibility. Headed by Catherine (Katie) Messina and assisted by a group of young artists, Fall for Fall was the first outdoor dance performance since the pandemic began. It showed the work of over thirty independent artists, both live and film presentations. Though there was no specific theme of the festival, there were recurring ideas of resiliency, humor, and joy of movement that seems to thread the pieces across the evenings. Some standouts include finally seeing part of Rose Shields’ (Core Dance) Manifolds, Laura Briggs’ Search History, and the first work of new company ALA Dance. There is talk of a Spring version of the Festival coming soon.
In October, Atlanta Ballet veteran Keith Reeves embarked on his own in-person, socially-distanced project with Bodies in Motion, a showcase of independent dance artists at historic Whittier Mill Park. Despite losing several Atlanta Ballet performers last-minute who were at risk of violating their contracts, Reeves quickly pivoted and sold out the show, which included solo works by Walter Apps, Titus Davis, Laura Briggs, Porter Grubbs, and a smashing duet by Jahrea Brown and Courtney Lewis. Reeves hopes to continue providing platforms for in-person performance in 2021.
Kit Modus (Jillian Mitchell) was one of few organizations to go back to offering in-person, contemporary open classes in August. Callanwolde School of Dance created a safe open-air dance studio, complete with a marley floor, that allowed locals to train and the company to resume creation. In November, they produced a sold out show, Ditto, at the Callanwolde Amphitheater. The work was a robust display of technique, power, and immense audience satisfaction.
Back in February, Benji Stevenson premiered their evening length work, person(a), at the Windmill Arts Center. The cast featured some of Atlanta's best dancers in a work that investigated queer identity, social media, and image obsession. At the end of the year, Benji also showed a virtual film, entitled Evil N*gger, which included a talkback. Benji’s work is important, as it shows that creators in Atlanta can produce full works without the aide of a company or institution, a somewhat unattainable feat in other cities due to space restrictions, cost, etc.
Other outdoor performances included Beacon Dance offering an experience in Freedom Park, and Gwinnett Dance Project presenting at Hamilton Mill Church in Duluth. The advantage of these performances held in accessible spaces was the engagement of passersby, exposing the community at large to art beyond their homes.
Many festivals shifted to move to an online platform - a commendable option for continuing performances in a new virtual space.
Two standouts were the long-running MAD Festival and FEMMEFest. Douglas Scott creatively moved his MAD Festival online, pairing choreographers, film makers, and composers together - free of charge. The festival featured particularly compelling works from Corian Ellisor and Danielle Swatzie. Atlanta Dance Collective’s FEMMEfest also moved online - allowing local and national female choreographers to show their work. These festivals offered two very different, but exceptional structures - ADC (Sarah Stokes) set up a weekend long stream anytime option through Vimeo, while MAD Festival was a set premiere on YouTube, which nodded to the days of indoor performances.
Kristin O’Neal and Dale Andree moved National Water Dance, a global initiative, to a virtual platform. Atlanta was a big contributor with Burning Bones Physical Theatre, Emory University, and Core Dance participating in the campaign to bring attention to water issues of the local community.
Walter Apps, Visual Media Coordinator of Core Dance, produced an exciting virtual installation that brought new life to the front windows of their iconic studio in Decatur Square. Core engages the public in the viewing and discussion of art locally and beyond. Compliments to Core Dance for their safe and successful travel to Arkansas' Crystal Bridges Museum of Contemporary Art for a two-week residency.
Film and movement artist, Kerri Garret, organized a dance visual series featuring numerous dancers, film makers, and choreographers supported by Fulton County. There was a vast amount of creative collaborators involved in her project from choreographers, musicians, and more. One notable film of the series, NO CAP, choreographed by Garret and commercial artist Perelizbeth Deleon combined hard hitting movement phrases, a compelling location, and unique camera angles. This project was in partnership with The Movement Lab, shout out to T Lang as she continued to offer space during the pandemic, even offering some for free of charge for artists who applied through her call for creatives.
Spelman College, Emory University, and Kennesaw State University put together fantastic fall semester ending presentations. Each work was deserving of accolades in it's own light. Emory University adapted by setting multiple site-specific works, while Spelman organized an online showcase. Kennesaw took an original approach with a mixed medium presentation. Cheers to these universities for making it work.
Atlanta perseveres, fueled by resilient and passionate creatives. Nothing can stop the arts scene. For a city that lacks funding, press, and mask mandates, our artists pursued innovation and made work happen. Congratulations to all! Did you attend any of these performances, or performances we did not cover? Comment 1-2 sentences about them below!!
Photo credit: Lori Teague (Cover Photo), Dance Canvas, Cody Jacques Photography (Fall for Fall), Daley Kapperman (Kit Modus), Michael R Mckennon (Gwinnett Dance Project), Full Radius Dance (MAD Festival), Core Dance, Kennasaw State University