Bautanzt Here's new site-specific work Archs and Textures DWTN is premiering in a series at Undergro
Written by Virginia Spinks
Photographers: Kimara Dixon and Nadya Zeitlin
In an ode to the architecture of Atlanta-Fulton Central Library, choreographer Nadya Zietlien continues her choreographic exploration of architectural design and the stories of human (dis)connection it carries.
In the first performance of the series, dancers filed into the performance space wearing moveable streetwear with impressive architectural foam and mesh sculptural pieces wrapped around their bodies. Unfortunately, these costume pieces were not conducive for movement in the whole piece, but I appreciated their inclusion in setting up the work. One at a time, the dancers took their respective places on the concrete steps in the courtyard adjacent to the Underground's fountains—a concrete jungle setting fitting to relay a sense of the brutalist-style building that inspired the movement mere blocks away.
Bauhaus-movement architect Marcel Breuer designed the Atlanta-Fulton Central Library. Completed in 1980, the library was the last Breuer would ever create. Like much of Atlanta's architecture, the building's design is beautiful and masterful. But due to the city's lack of coherent urban design or strategy, the building stands apart from the others nearby. Atlanta's cultural obsession with constantly ripping out the old and building anew, the city set aside funds to build a new Central Library in the early 2000s. When the funds became available for the project in 2016, public outcry and community organizing saved Breuer's building from demolition and replacement. The funds are now slated for the building's renovation.
Inspired by these events and the building's design elements—staircases, lattice elements, and wood and concrete material contrast—the first Archs and Textures performance took a humanistic point of view to ruminate on what feelings the structure might experience. Upon news of demolition, to wonder whether it is welcomed, accepted or appreciated by those for whom it was constructed: us.
In conveying this, the work was successful. Dancers started with shape-shifting poses in isolation but then gradually caught up with one another through copying and mirroring one another as if desperate to find a connection. Soon the dancers all became one, forming walls with their backs, rafters with their arms, and staircases with their levels. The music, performed live by Xay Zoleil, provided a fitting electric soundscape to match the 80s artistic period and feelings of alienation. The score was so suited to the setting as to be unobtrusive and perfectly support the environment of the work.
The dancers moved through a range of movement dynamics: sharp pose changes, jumping, melting and gesturing both subtly and urgently, highlighting the range of tactics we use to grab attention. Near the piece's climax, the dancers' right arms became impossibly heavy, needing to rely on the sturdy shoulder of another to hold it up before slowly backing up the stairs and dissipating.
Among the most notable and poignant moments of the work to me were entirely unplanned. Due
to the performance's public setting downtown, several presumably unhoused people interacted with the work as it unfolded. People so accustomed to being overlooked and ignored by our society suddenly found one of the only spaces they are allowed to be (public space), a stage.
More than once, armed security officers steered these people away from the performance, which I found unsurprising but disappointing. Their interaction with the work exactly underscored what makes Bautanzt Here's Arch's and Textures so special: the celebration, in concept and practice, of public (read: free) art in public space. The Archs & Textures series cultivates an exceedingly rare environment in a city where art funding for public work is consistently low and just being in public space is consistently criminalized.
Though, it's hard not to feel promise and hope for a better, more liberated future while witnessing a project like this, with public dance about public library architecture. It represents arts and culture precisely as they should be: by the people, for the people.
Public institutions want to be appreciated. The people want to be seen. Atlanta, we need more.
Virginia Spinks is a dance artist moved by vulnerability, connectivity, and the power those traits hold. A native of Atlanta, GA, she graduated from DeKalb School of the Arts and earned her bachelor’s from Emory University in Dance, Religion & Anthropology. Virginia has worked as a writer for multiple nonprofits, and she’s currently a graduate student at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School. When she’s not dancing, she enjoys reading, cooking, or spending time outside.