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ALA Dance explores liminality in new evening-length double premiere

by: Ashley Suta

Photos by Shannel J Resto

Now in its third season, ALA Dance is home to 14 metro-Atlanta artists — 8 of which have been brought on since 2023. Much like the company itself, ALA Dance’s newest production, Threshold, showcased expansion and bold innovation. Threshold, hosted at the Factory Atlanta on May 3 for one night only, boasted a double bill of Artistic Director Atarius Armstrong’s newest iteration of “SHED” in addition to an exciting new landmark for the budding dance company.


ALA Dance welcomed its first-ever guest artist-in-residence, NYC-based Yoshito Sakuraba, for program opener “Moirai.” This succinct work drew on ancient Greek mythology, where the Moirai were three sisters who collectively personified fate. 


Sakuraba dissected the subject matter with clear choreographic choices. He explored the dualism of choices vs. fate in a subtle dichotomy of battling powers. Through contrasting music, movement vocabulary, style, intentionality, and physicality, “Moirai”  blurred the edges of what will and what could be.


Slippery, meandering movement trickled across the industrial expanse of the performance space. Dancer Rose Shields flowed through a series of predestined shapes, which she spiraled through with a comfortable ease. Her body glided across the stark concrete floor in a subdued state of semi-consciousness. Each rounded leg or curved arm originated from an internal head/tail connection. As if allowing destiny to work its magic, Shields’ body slid through a series of floorwork and standing patterns with the utmost spinal fluidity, giving the appearance of minimal effort on her part. 


This notable solo from Shields, amidst other similar moments, brilliantly contrasted with the idea of choice. A trio of Carly Wynans, Graham Shelor, and Shields burst into a syncopated frenzy – each motion, each gesture conscious and calculated. The choreography, once flowy and indirect, shifted to clean-cut pathways of movement. In a swift stretch, the trio lifted one arm each to point an index finger skyward. Yet again, the dueling power of fate seeped through. Each arm melted down, the dancers seemingly drained of the previous quirky spontaneity and once again returning to more relaxed actions.


Sakuraba’s contemporary style blended well with the makeup of ALA Dance and fit well on the company, featuring both original and newer members alike. The polished give and take of Sakuraba’s choreography left me wanting more of his artistic commentary.


To close the evening, Armstrong presented a re-imagined version of his work “SHED: limen” that first premiered at the Fall for Fall Dance Festival in 2020. This work showcased his innate ability to choreograph on, not just to, his unique group of dancers. Armstrong’s movement fit like a glove on each dancer, as he seemed to incorporate their strengths and artistry while pushing boundaries within his own movement language.


A short film collaboration, created with ALA company member Kaleb Mitchell, splashed an image of fellow dancer Leah Kelly — alone in nature — against the clean, white back wall of Factory Atlanta. 


Chirping birds mixed with an intermittent and overbearing buzzing built a soundtrack for Kelly. In a child-like struggle, she began a labored attempt to dress. Only halfway successful, Kelly broke into a wild run that ended with her aboard a MARTA train, half-dressed and with garments dangling from her body. 


As the video closed, dancers emerged in a blackout to the continued sounds of trains and screeching brakes. The dancers began rhythmic horizontal phrases in a zombie-like trance. Arms moved across the body in sawing or pulling motions. Dancers moved through space with horizontal scoots and sharp lateral turns. More infrequent vertical motifs began to interject in the dancers’ solo patterns, with arms reaching skyward rather than just cross-body.


The clumped group of dancers synced together in a surreal, still trance-like unison. They seemed to almost wake up as they dispersed across the floor, only to launch back into the same routine of unison.


A series of four duets drove home Armstrong’s exploration of growing up and leaving the nest. The adult/parent figures in this section each stood behind their “child,” guiding them with a gentle maternal instinct in an evolving downstage and upstage pattern. A sense of defiance and questioning festered within the “children,” as they began to resist the increasingly forceful touch.


Armstrong certainly did not shy away from the use of repetition, which made for nice development within the work. The repetition led to intricate geometric floor patterns and opened up the movement’s potential. 


Weight shifting to the left, each dancer leaned until they stumbled to a forced run. With palms reaching inward to cup the mouth and spill forward, dancers stepped to a piqué arabesque, balancing briefly on the ball of the standing foot with one leg extended behind. This beautiful sequence, built on repetition, ended with dancers seated on their knees curving to fall facedown on the floor with unwavering commitment. A slow roll-up through the spine brought the dancers back to their feet, as they manipulated the choreography to move into opposing diagonal lines and repeated.


Throughout the work, the cast gradually shed their loose black/gray attire to reveal flesh-toned undergarments and tan knee pads. The mechanics behind these choices were interesting. Some dancers undressed themselves, while others had assistance. Others exited entirely and returned after having shed their attire. Regardless of the process, the majority of the group ended up the same: symbolically naked and vulnerable. The dancers’ strengths showed as they began to wholeheartedly pursue freedom through movement throughout the remainder of the work.


The video integration returned to bookend the performance. Four groups of two spread across a grassy field. One dancer in each pair lay slumped sideways atop the back of the other’s shoulders to present a stunning motif. The camera then singled out one dancer at a time, lost in blissful solo work. The solos were interrupted only by the occasional pair walking mid-lift across the foreground to transition to the next dancer. Up-close images of the dancers’ faces soar across the screen with a brief tension, only to be resolved with the flicker of a smile on the final slide  — belief, hope, comfort, peace, belonging.


Much like ALA Dance itself with each new performance, it continues to step up and establish its voice as a growing Atlanta dance company. This closing moment of “SHED: limen” resonated a deeper sense of stepping into the unknown with confidence. The overall program, full of innovation and firsts for the company, paved the way for a confident step into whatever the future has in store for ALA Dance’s upcoming fourth season.


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