Last weekend, Brooks and Company Dance performed its fourth annual concert, “Composed,” at Theatrical Outfit’s Balzer Theater in downtown Atlanta. In my review in Monday’s AJC, I compared this small emerging company to the modern dance pioneers of the 1930s and ’40s. Similar to Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, members of this troupe are steadfastly committed to their craft. This is combined with the courage to dig deep, tackle serious issues and solve complex problems.
Reviewing “Composed,” I wrote: “Exploring ‘the inner landscape’ of the psyche, and the relationship of mathematics and nature in music, this emerging modern dance company offered two points of view on the search for order in chaos. The intent was gutsy and courageous, if a little tentative in performance.”
“Company founding member Kristyn McGeehan’s first one-act work ‘Chiaroscuro,’ delved into psychological struggles of the mentally ill. Artistic Director Joanna Brooks used arbitrary methods of patterning choreography that opened new possibilities for her movement vocabulary.”
Coupling of these different approaches reminded me of two consecutive phases in modern dance history. McGeehan’s emotionally driven “Chiaroscuro” conjured up the Depression-era “black woolens” phase, where movement was austere, sharp and angular, and choreography came “from the inside out.” Choreography tended to be emotionally driven, with plots and characters, following the rule “no movement without motivation.” Consistent with this approach, McGeehan clearly embodied several individuals’ struggles with mental illness as physical conflicts.
Similar to Merce Cunningham, Brooks departed from the constraints of narrative in “4.3.5”. Instead, she used objective methods — in this case, mathematical processes — to visually define and explain the dissonance she heard in Philip Glass’ minimalist “The Low Symphony.” Though McGeehan and Brooks chose different problems and approaches, each choreographer challenged herself and pushed herself into new territory.
And lastly, from the review: “Like these organic, mathematical progressions, Brooks and Company has experienced sustainable growth since its shoestring-budget debut at Arts in the Park at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery four years ago. These fiercely determined artists are actively committed to building a strong community dance network, and they continue to challenge, discover and define themselves. Hold steady, and watch them grow.”
Fulton County Arts Council CFS (contracts for services) program manager Lisa Wilson commented that Brooks and Company has experienced consistent, manageable and sustainable growth. In workshops, Wilson often uses this troupe as an example of how a small emerging arts organization can use and benefit from the arts council’s resources.
And Brooks board President Keif Schleifer, along with Several Dancers CORE Communications Manager Claire Horn, Atlanta Ballet Development Officer Alison Brock and others are leading an initiative to form Decatur Book Festival program director and dance critic Thomas Bell, who’s performed with Brooks and Company, how he has seen the organization grow over the past four years. Bell wrote that Schleifer and company managing director Su Schwenck have worked tirelessly to strengthen Atlanta dance community ties and further the dance agenda in the political realm. In addition, Bell wrote, “And the dancers… that’s where I see the greatest growth. She’s (Joanna’s) pushed these dancers hard, for years now … They’ve become a remarkable company… who really are up to the task of performing Joanna’s vision. They’re dedicated, talented, passionate, tough, and fearless. That didn’t just happen. Joanna’s fierce drive and grand vision have made it so.”