Dance Canvas has announced the choreographers for its 2011-12 Performance Series, to run January 20-21 on the Main Stage of the Woodruff Arts Center’s 14th Street Playhouse. They are (with their affiliated companies and training):
- Ray Hall — Dance Canvas, Ballet Tennessee, Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education
- Angela Harris — Dance Canvas, Urban Ballet Theater, Columbia City Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem School
- Robert Mason — Dance Canvas, Amaglamate Dance Company, New York City, Ailey School
- Sandra Parks — “The King and I” national tour, Wu-I Dance, Taiwan, professor at Kennesaw State University
- Katie McMillen Stull — Georgia Ballet, Ballet Concerto, Texas Christian University
- Emily Vanderklay — Atlanta Ballet, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Productions, Boston Ballet School
- Tracy Vogt — Philadanco, Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theater, Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, University of the Arts
- Marcus White — Paradigm Dance (co-founder), Greensboro, North Carolina, Detroit Dance Collective, UNC Greensboro
- Dana Woodruff — MFA, NYU, Adelphi University, professor at Kennesaw State University
Two additional choreographers will be chosen through partnerships with Kennesaw State University and Dance 101. Dance Canvas is also teaming up with New York-based Career Transitions for Dancers to present a workshop for local dance professionals, scheduled for November 19 in conjunction with Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE’s performance at the Rialto Center for the Arts.
Angela Harris, executive artistic director of Dance Canvas, says the organization has three goals: to “jump-start” emerging choreographers’ careers by providing them with a professional venue, access to dancers and other support; to develop high school and college dance students’ careers; and to grow local dance audiences. When she explained this mission to the audience at Dance Canvas’ debut performance on the Playhouse’s Stage 2 several years ago, she sent them off with the final words “Atlanta needs this,” to resounding applause.
When she began her professional dance career in New York, Harris says, “the vibe and opportunities were a whole lot different.” But she loved Atlanta and wanted to stay here. She hopes to foster a similar environment here, where performance and production are at a more polished level, the idea of dance as a career is more accepted, dancers are paid what they’re worth, and there is more of New York’s greater sense of camaraderie within a professional dance network. This is key to building audiences, Harris told me, which is essential to building a stronger dance community.
Her efforts have not gone unrecognized. Last summer, the Americans for the Arts organization awarded Harris its American Express Emerging Leader Award for her “leadership, innovative thinking and commitment to advancing the arts” in her community.
What’s different about this year’s set of choreographers? Harris says she’s looking for emerging artists who are serious about furthering their careers, not just locally but nationally. A panel of dance professionals and non-dancers, including Harris and Dance Canvas production coordinator Dana Woodruff, selected choreographers from a pool of 36 applicants. Harris says she looked for originality and, more specifically, a unique voice, variety and accessibility. In addition to viewing video samples of work, she asked applicants to discuss their long-term goals and to choose a local dance mentor whom they’d like to work with if they could. For returning choreographers, Harris assessed their career paths since their last Dance Canvas presentation.
One of this year’s choreographers, Robert Mason, showed a strikingly memorable work in 2008, called “Hunger.” About a year later, he joined the New York-based Amaglamate Dance Company. Mason and dancer Jennifer Davis, who are now married to each other, have since returned to Atlanta and recently founded City Gate, a contemporary modern dance company. Mason and Davis will offer a preview of City Gate’s style at Dance Canvas’ January showcase.
Harris aimed “to create a diverse show that is artistically interesting to a wide cross-section, as well as relatable to the community.” The concert will display a range of styles, including contemporary and neoclassical ballet, Horton-based modern dance, contemporary jazz, hip-hop and a new tap piece by Ray Hall.