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Monica Hogan Danceworks reflects vibrancy of Atlanta dance community through company growth

by: Ashley Suta

Photos by: Shannel Resto, SJR Photography

Spectra: Volume 1, presented at Emory Performing Arts Studio on October 14-15, illustrates the rapid and colorful growth of Monica Hogan Danceworks (MHDW) since its 2021 relocation to Atlanta. The show premieres MHDW’s newest 30-minute creation, “Counterpoint,” alongside the work of four up-and-coming guest choreographers.

The rugged, symmetrical shape of a silhouetted figure pierces the darkness. Julianna Feracota opens the night with her reimagined version of the self-choreographed solo, “From Within,” which she originally set in 2018. Feracota faces upstage, alert and tense, with her back muscles rippling in a low-cut, open-backed leotard. Her elbows stretch horizontally, parallel to the floor, and bent sharply to allow her fingertips to link with the top of her shoulders, perched in a cross between a weightlifter and a bird.

Feracota releases her elbows in tandem, creating a flapping motion. Other times, the release is out of sync and culminates in a total collapse of the arms into exhausted slaps against her thighs. Unphased, she resumes her captivating struggle until her focus is absorbed by the lower edge of her ankle-length, black skirt. Feracota explores the potential of the skirt as if it is a prop but also the edge of her own existence.

“matter-of-fact” by McKaylah Bristow, an expressive duet, utilizes a series of spirals and circular floor patterns. Flashes of commercial dance seep through the choreography’s vulnerability. A second-year student at Kennesaw State University, Bristow’s potential continues to unfold, as she hones her choreographic skill.

Dominique Kinsey’s dreamy “Nostalgia: What is?” zooms in on the almost eerie familiarity of revisiting the past. The cast forms a clump in the upstage right corner, each fixated foggily on the hand as if it is a forgotten body part no longer attached to or recognized by their own bodies.

As the work develops, dancer Walter Apps stands opposing the group, leading them with a pulsing electricity. At Apps’ cue, each dancer’s downstage knee buckles out to the side, initiating a static hip rotation. Simultaneously, the upstage arm cuts sharply toward the center of the body before slithering out on an upward diagonal. The next pulse sends Apps and the group scampering backward before being tossed and immobilized against an imaginary force field at their backs. They walk in stiff half turns as if trapped in a thick, gooey film of memories.

The sleek and delicate choreography crafted by Meaghan Novoa in “Perennial” closes the section of featured Spectra artists on a strong note. The onstage trio crouch low to the floor in a shallow diagonal. Each dancer’s right palm rocks to the floor at various points around their bodies, each touch as fragile as glass. The dancers themselves seem to absorb and personify the infinite piano chimes. Lizzie Roman’s artistry in particular shines through the choreography as she fully embodies the essence of each movement.

With the evening’s premiere of “Counterpoint,” Monica Hogan Thysell once again showcases her robust and versatile choreographic voice. The theme, an 8-part exploration of relationships, provides brief snapshots of the interactions and vulnerability of everyday life.

“i. The Grind” propels performance goers into the first vignette with a helicopter-like energy. Brief nuances of elasticity permeate this section. Lackadaisical sways and dainty demi-pointe walks bleed into grounded weight shifts and jazzy directional changes.

At the start of “ii. The Longing,” a crowd of dancers scattering across the stage temporarily obscure soloist Aryanna Allen. While this first scene transition catches me off-guard and initially feels random and messy, these transitions quickly grow on me. Each one becomes an act of inclusion, a way of bringing together all of the ever-evolving relationships into a single narrative.

“iii. The Routine” and “iv. The Familiar” share a crisp, athletic style utilizing repetition and an air of effortlessness. Partners relish in mirroring each other’s movement. The confidence and stylized ease here, crafted into the choreography and executed by the dancers, point to Thysell’s gifted artistic vision.

The next segue into “v. The Falling” has the greatest impact. Dancers Allen and Britanie Leland lock eyes across the stage in a bold stare, almost as if causing the sea of other dancers to slowly dissipate around them. The tactility in this duet blurs the bodies together through a series of embraces. The section concludes with the two face-to-face, hunched low to the ground in a roll, unable to break eye contact.

Thysell’s lighthearted and theatrical flavor peeks through the comedic undertones of “vi. The Argument.” Dancer Audrey Crabtree tackles her partner Emily Hogan in a fit of anger. Crabtree burrows the crown of her head into Hogan’s stomach and fastens her hands securely to Hogan’s hips, driving her across the floor with a heavy rhino-like ferocity. Crabtree and Hogan reciprocate back and forth, all the while with undermining lighthearted grins, waves, and meditation breaks.

“vii. Letting Go” dives into a parent/child dynamic and opens with a tender image of Leland and Allen styling Feracota’s hair. The two “parents” support, encourage, and follow Feracota on her journey. Feracota embarks on a solo and runs to Allen for a hug of approval. With outstretched arms and a bittersweet confidence, Feracota spreads metaphorical wings and grows up as the section draws to a close with her exit.

In a short explosion of color and energy, the ensemble unites for “viii. The Groove.” Perhaps the most notable takeaway from this striking finalé is the teamwork and trust evident in the dancers. The artists of MHDW mesh together beautifully and complement each other well. They perform unison work on a standout level, far past what one might expect from a relatively new dance company.

With their stunning artistic and technical growth paired with the emerging choreographers’ initiative, Thysell’s company continues to soar. Her work in the studio and local community carve a path to a bright, sustainable future in Atlanta dance.

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