Atlanta’s local contemporary dance troupes may not be as slickly packaged as the big-budget, one-night-only touring companies seen at the Rialto and the Ferst Center for the Arts. But for the avid dance fan, it’s gratifying to follow these local artists as they develop over time. Creativity appears to be on the upswing, partly due to the efforts of DanceATL, a support group for local dance founded about two years ago by CORE Communications Manager Claire Horn, arts advocate Keif Schleifer and Alyson Brock, development officer of Atlanta Ballet.
You might see their Dance Table at concerts, consult their online performance calendar or join the conversation on Horn’s “Atlanta Dances” blog. In addition, the group hosts bimonthly meetings featuring informal dance performances and panel discussions on practical concerns such as funding, lighting design and dancers’ health issues. The atmosphere is more supportive than competitive, and there’s time for face-to-face networking — essential for a healthy, vibrant dance community.
The group met last Sunday at Atlanta Ballet’s headquarters. Almost 30 dancers, choreographers and others gathered to hear from dance-makers Blake Beckham, Amy Gately and George Staib about their approaches to their art. The discussion revealed some exciting developments in upcoming new work.
Here is one highlight. Last fall, as independent choreographer Beckham was in high gear presenting “American Muscle,” she envisioned a new work inspired by an image of an old truck filled with rolls of sod. Aided by lighting designer Malina Rodriguez and a neighbor’s 1970 buttercup-yellow Chevrolet Scout, Beckham began to develop “PLOT,” which looks to be an intriguing new site-specific work, set to premiere July 28-31 at the Goat Farm in West Midtown. Beckham will show a preview at MINT Gallery on June 25, alongside Portland-based dance artist Noelle Stiles. Both events are Dance Truck productions.
Gracefully seated in front of attendees on the dance studio floor in a neatly tailored African-print dress, Beckham read aloud 10 ideas about dance that she had composed for the occasion. “My experience of the world is wrapped up in chaos and contingency, mysteries, mixed messages, failures, fragments,” she said. “I don’t aim for coherence, because I really don’t know what that is. Or to put it another way: I don’t believe in beauty, just more truths.”
Afterward, dancers Camille Jackson and Alisa Mittin performed a duet that explored breath, touch, impulse and relationship. A series of exchanges involved falling, catching, leaning, pushing and shoving. Intermittently, one would ask the other, “Is that enough?” This question changed meanings as their use of weight, force and point of body contact shifted from sensitive interaction to aggression.
Beckham explained that the hour-long work is informed by metaphors of germination, growth, decay, seasons and the passage of time. Designed specifically for its location, it will live in a few interior and exterior spaces at the former cotton mill. The troupe will dance on a bed of sod in an open-air, crumbling brick enclosure they call the Breezeway. They’ll dance in back of the Goat Farm, where people rarely go, and in “the Rodriguez Room,” an intimate interior space.
Rodriguez joined Beckham and described her vision for this room: candlelit, she hopes, with performers and plants on a raised stage. The platform will reveal the plants’ roots hanging underneath, giving off an earthy smell, aiming for a raw, intimate, exposed feeling. There will be exploration of things people bury in the ground. Donated old shoes will be recycled as planters. A sound score will include, among other things, samples taken from the location: trains, goats and other sounds.
Here’s Beckham’s 10th and final idea about choreography: “I have said that my interest is revealing the humanity of the sincere and striving body. I still believe that. I am in awe that every day the world practices its habit of rotation and we persist in our one-foot-in-front-of-the-othering. There’s hopefulness in taking in the world through the lens of movement and its relentless, astonishing impermanence.”