Choreographer Juel D. Lane is gathering friends for his second annual dance showcase, “A Night of Choreography With Juel D. Lane and Friends,” at the Southwest Arts Center on Friday, April 26. The one-night-only “dance extravaganza” that he is curating will feature work by local choreographers and singers as well as New York-based artists Camille A. Brown and Ja’Malik.
Most of the works on the shared bill are solos, notably Brown’s signature piece, “The Evolution of a Secured Feminine,” which was recently commissioned by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Brown often sets the solo on other dancers, but she’ll perform it herself on Friday. Set to music of Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson, the piece tells the story of a conflicted female character who “vacillates between uncertainty and carefree expression.”
Lane, who says Brown “is like a sister” to him, is also a big fan. “She’s a tour de force,” he says. “Even if she’s just sliding her arm out, it’s razor sharp and so clear. There’s nobody else like her.”
“Storytelling” and “clarity” are words that Lane uses often as he speaks of the six choreographers on the program. And while the works in “A Night of Choreography” are not thematically connected, the emphasis on those two choreographic elements make the works cohesive for Lane.
“Last year it was more about me celebrating my friends and seeing their work,” he explains. For this year’s concert, he wants to highlight “the pure essence of a dancer telling a story” and focus on just a few solo artists. “I love the simplicity of a soloist,” says Lane, who has invited Ja’Malik and local choreographer Ursula Kendall back this year to perform solos, as well as singers Rahbi and Maiesha McQueen. The only exception to the solo theme is hip-hop choreographer Quincy Lamar’s group piece, which Lane requested after he “fell in love” with Lamar’s work with all-male Atlanta-based company LIFT.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Lane has strong ties to his native city and great respect for what he calls “home-grown talent.” Last spring, the 32-year-old artist received Atlanta Ballet’s first commission given to an independent Atlanta choreographer and created “Moments of Dis” for the company.
Inspired by opportunities given to him, Lane asked young choreographer Brian Binion — an Atlanta native and a senior at Lane’s alma mater, the North Carolina School of the Arts — to present work in “A Night of Choreography.” With almost fatherly pride, Lane remembers when Binion was accepted to NCSA. Four years later, he saw Binion’s senior solo and thought, “This is not the same young man I remember. Who is this beast onstage?” As with the other soloists on the program, Lane cites technical clarity and captivating stage presence as deciding factors in including Binion on the program.
The solo form is especially personal to Lane, who will present his new work “The Maestro,” based on an Ernie Barnes painting of the same title. The lone black male figure in the painting, made famous by the 1970s television show “Good Times,” reminded Lane of himself. In Barnes’ signature style, the man’s body in the painting is elongated, his impossibly long arms stretched upward and head tilted back as if he’s conducting a 100-piece orchestra instead of an old radio, the only object in the room. The physical resemblance — long lines and taut muscularity — is clear, but Lane also connected with the painting’s message. “For me it’s about conducting my dreams and using my heartbeat as the rhythm, like a metronome of life,” he says.
Like many young artists, Lane is trying to strike a balance; his goal is to build a successful career without becoming overworked. Perhaps “The Maestro” is both autobiographical and therapeutic, a sort of reminder for Lane to find some down time. “I’m always trying to be superman,” he says. “But I have to protect my heart.” With friends like these, it seems he’s on the right track.
Head over to Facebook to learn what musical Lane is choreographing that opens at the Fox Theatre next month.