On Sunday, along the tracks of the BeltLine project in the Reynoldstown neighborhood just east of downtown, Brooks and Company Dance will perform “MENT,” a site-specific work set on a railroad overpass, a loading dock and an abandoned building in the former industrial district. Live music by violinist Chip Epstein and percussion duo Rhythm Synergy, D’Air Project aerialists, cyclists and graffiti artist Lex Theevilgenius will join the dancers, who’ll appear in body paint, camouflaged onto a graffiti wall.
The company was founded by young choreographer Joanna Brooks, just out of her 20s. She’s ambitious, driven and takes her work seriously. A lot of people in town respect her vision — Good Moves and Dance 101 give her rehearsal space, and Atlanta Ballet artistic director John McFall has given the company studio space for its Dance for Parkinson’s Disease outreach classes.
If Brooks is not yet in Lauri Stallings’ league as a choreographer, it’s partly because Brooks is tied primarily to the local scene, where most dance troupes go from one performance to the next on tiny shoestring budgets that depend on piecemeal funding and dancers who’ll work part time for very little pay. This year, the budget for Brooks and Company will be around $20,000.
But Brooks is clearly up and coming on the Atlanta dance scene, with a growing, loyal following. She tends to take on serious subjects: She told me that she’s tackling child sex trafficking for November, then plans on Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 2011. So far I’ve seen mainly abstract choreography from her, not narrative work, which raises the question of whether her choreographic skill is sophisticated enough to successfully take on such subjects.
Unlike companies such as Zoetic and some of the eclectic postmodern work coming out of Decatur, Brooks (above) stays grounded in the Martha Graham modern dance tradition, where most of her training lies. She explains that emotions are expressed viscerally through movements rooted in the contraction, release and spiraling of the spine, initiated by the deep abdominal muscles. Clearly etched arm and hand gestures recall Graham’s style. Brooks’ dance vocabulary isn’t groundbreaking, but it upholds a technical standard that much of the modern dance community has ignored, and she earns a measure of respect for that. (Top photo by Christopher T. Martin; middle and lower photos by Will Day.)
“MENT,” which is only the company’s second site-specific work, has the makings of a groundbreaking event for it. It will be fascinating on many levels. With so many elements that Brooks has never worked with before, the pieces may not fit together all the time. But surely it will be a spectacle, a celebration for the city and a brave step forward for Joanna Brooks.