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Exploring Trust and Conflict While Dancing for Peace

Updated: Oct 16

By Julie Galle Baggenstoss

At the Peace Day Celebration on September 24, 2022, at the First Existentialist Congregation of

Atlanta, dance performances offered a reflection on the ways people struggle, come together,

and find joy in time without conflict. The collection of 11 multi-disciplinary performances was

presented by Cherish Dance and the First E Art Guild, in recognition of International Day of

Peace, which is marked annually by the United Nations on September 21 as a day of ceasefire.

One of the highlights of the hour-long presentation was a choreography by Brielle Rathbun

performed by Profectus Dance, entitled “I Saw It.” Seven women dressed in shades of white

and beige created a sense of heavy weight anchored to the earth as they crouched and slid

along the hardwood floor. While rolling, their outstretched legs sliced the air in opposition,

transmitting a sense of conflict in contrast to the light, invisible hope offered above. With eyes

as part of their expression, gazing upwardly was as intentional for these dancers as addressing

the sky with their arms and torsos throughout the piece. They communicated the optimism of

something that they knew the audience could hope to visualize overhead but not quite see.

“Face to Face,” performed by Gwinnett Dance Project and choreographed by Riley Bryson, brought to light the idea that trust is an act of grace in the darkness of crisis. Eight dancers moved in two coordinate groups and as four sets of partners, facing their backs to one another more than standing eye-to-eye. Stepping far away from another and reapproaching, rolling and sliding in opposite directions, writhing close together, bodies asked for support and offered strength in well-coordinated movements. Strong leg extensions created visuals of balance and imbalance throughout the piece, and at one point painted a culminating visual. In that moment, while all dancers faced upstage, four of the teens extended their right legs,

permitting the audience to watch as their downstage peers, who were kneeling, each lifted a single arm to catch and hold the outstretched legs. They presented the audience with the irony that one does not always see the assistance at hand.

In its performance of “The Gift,” choreographed by René Nesbit, Cherish Dance played with

sheer scarves that matched their colorful gem-toned dresses. Their lightweight pieces of fabric

became much more than props, as the four dancers took turns portraying whimsical moments,

such as a knock at the door to connect friends, youngsters dressing up in formal clothing, and a

patty-cake rhythm. Audience members smiled and giggled, a reminder that joy erupts in the

everyday interactions and a time when peace may be at its greatest: childhood.

If peace lies at the intersection of people living together without conflict – albeit perhaps with acceptable compromises – then each of the dances, songs, and poems revealed the elements of human nature that lie along the path of interpersonal harmony. That expressed desire was most communal during the closing piece, when René Nesbit and Cherish Dance asked the audience to join them in singing the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. Accompanied by Frank

Nesbit on guitar, voices began in a light whisper across the room and bellowed by the time they howled, “Yoo-hoo-ooh-ooh-ooh.” What began as an apprehensive effort by the audience had turned into a room filled with bodies swaying together, heads bobbing, and people fearlessly looking one another in the eyes, smiling. That was a dance for peace.

The diverse line-up featured 13 creatively crafted submissions ranging between music, poetry,

dance, and film. The event offered both in-person tickets, which sold out ahead of time, and a

virtual screening option. René Nesbit, founder of Can I Color Now Studios and director of

Cherish Dance, hosted the event with elegance and inspiration, inviting audience members to

find their own ways to celebrate this holiday.

Julie Galle Baggenstoss is a scholar and frequent lecturer in the field of flamenco history and culture. She has an M.A. in Spanish from Georgia State University, where she analyzed flamenco through the lens of Spanish history, literature, and linguistics. She is the Executive Director of A Través, 501c3, dedicated to flamenco arts in the state of Georgia, and she is a founder of the Atlanta Flamenco Festival. In addition to performing and working with students in grades K-12 as a teaching artist, Julie teaches flamenco at Emory University.

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