Choreographer and Atlanta native Juel D. Lane wants to say thank you to the city that shaped him and to the friends who have supported him along the way. And, while such sentiments might sound like those of someone with many years of hard-won experience, Lane, who has choreographed professionally in Atlanta only since 2009 and recently premiered a work for Atlanta Ballet, at age 31 is already eager to give credit where credit is due.
“A Night of Choreography With Juel D. Lane and Friends” will feature works by Lane and seven of his friends, choreographers whom he calls part of his “support system.” Among them is Bessie Award nominee Camille A. Brown, the New York-based artistic director of Camille A. Brown & Dancers and choreographer for the Broadway revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Brown will perform a solo work in the concert.
Brown and Lane attended the North Carolina School of the Arts together, and both went on to perform with Ronald K. Brown, artistic director of Brooklyn-based Evidence, a Dance Company. After about six years they parted ways, Brown to start her own company in New York, Lane to return to his Atlanta roots. Inspired by her rising celebrity in the dance world, Lane calls Brown a role model and says, “She’s so giving, but also very smart and focused.”
He is quick to add that he has drawn inspiration from all of the concert’s choreographers. “There were actually more people I wanted to bring down,” he says. “But I had to say, ‘OK, Juel, calm down.’ ”
He acknowledges that the show has no focus beyond paying tribute to those who have inspired him. “It’s almost like a party,” he says. “It’s an introduction. I have some beautiful, talented friends, and I wanted them to show their work. We’re so busy; it’s rare, and great, to have us all under one roof.”
Lane allowed them complete artistic freedom. But many of the program’s dances share a common theme: the ups and downs of relationships. The complexities of human communication, the difficulties of romantic relationships and the heartbreak of love lost are, of course, ever-popular, enduring and relevant subjects. New York-based choreographer Ja’Malik will present a duet inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 17, and Rachel Sherertz of North Carolina will offer “To Have and to Hold,” a glimpse of the trials and tribulations of married life.
“Lost in Translation” by Daryl Foster, a local choreographer and founder of the all-male dance collective LIFT, deals with the struggle for interpersonal understanding. Foster says the dancers must “negotiate understanding through movement” and that “relationships fail or flourish based on communication.” Similar in title but more introspective, “The Lost” is a solo by North Carolina native Kristin Taylor, whose character confronts her inner “fears, insecurities, promises and aspirations of success” as she strives toward self-realization.
Lane also will highlight work by Atlanta-based black choreographers including Spelman College’s Meredith Moore and Ursula Kendall Johnson, who produced the recent community showcase “SHE Created IT.”
“I want to put more eyes on the dance community,” says Lane, who hopes the concert will inspire more African-Americans to attend local modern dance shows. “We get so fixated on what we know. I’m saying, ‘Don’t just wait until Alvin Ailey gets here.’ ”
Indeed, he intends to capture a wider audience with his duet “Touch and Agree,” an excerpt from a longer work about homosexual and bisexual relationships. Although it’s hardly a new theme for contemporary dance, he hopes it will reveal a commonality of human experience and tell universal “stories of the heart.”
This is a refreshing, if not just a tiny bit idealistic, tribute to the old-fashioned ideal of friendship. But in the cutthroat world of contemporary dance, where jealousy and competition often tear friends apart, “A Night of Choreography” stands to be a welcome alternative.