Zoetic Dance Ensemble is getting a shot of inspiration from a talented young choreographer, ChristinaNoel Reaves. The former Zoetic dancer is preparing to launch her first evening-length concert in New York next month. But this Saturday, she’ll present the piece, “Rapture of the Heroine (Guuurrl),” as a tribute to the company that nurtured her.
There was an air of freshness as the dancers ran through Reaves’ new work at an open rehearsal last fall. Highlighting female camaraderie, resilience and determination, the piece drew out the dancers’ strength, humor and unencumbered radiance.
Zoetic will present the premiere of “Rapture of the Heroine (Guuurrl)” at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Southwest Arts Center. The program will also include new works by Zoetic Director Melanie-Lynch Blanchard, T. Lang, Meredith Moore and Zoetic and Spelman College dancers.
Reaves worked with Zoetic for five years while she studied at Atlanta Ballet and earned a degree in vocal performance at Georgia State University. She has since completed an MFA in dance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she developed her first dance theater works and subsequently formed her own company.
Her style blends influences that have run through her life, from a childhood filled with sports, dance, vocal studies and work as an orchestral percussionist, to Zoetic’s base in the modern dance techniques of Martha Graham and Lester Horton, to recent work in somatic movement-and-release techniques. Her creations merge voice, text, choreography and other theatrical elements to produce work that’s as exciting for its athleticism and technical complexity as for its dramatic expressiveness.
Recently, Reaves spoke with ArtsATL about how Zoetic prepared her for a career in dance and how the troupe continues to inspire and nurture her.
ArtsATL: You worked with Zoetic starting at age 19 and for the next five years. How did the experience change you?
ChristinaNoel Reaves: I got to step into Zoetic at a time when they were full of the fire of launching themselves; they were willing to fight to make themselves known on the scene. They were good technicians and yet they had this kind of fire and pop.
I got to see what it would be like to have a life as a dancer: that you can have a family and other jobs and still work very hard as a dancer and be a committed artist. And they never excluded me just because I was 10 years younger.
There was a lot of laughing and sassiness. It felt like sisters. They trained me to teach, and that is largely my moneymaking source in New York now. It prepared me to be professional beyond their world. Zoetic also does a lot of partnering, so I left that company knowing how to lift anyone, man or woman.
ArtsATL: How did you get started making dance theater works?
Reaves: I made a little bit of work at NYU. One piece I really liked used the voice. I didn’t know if the faculty liked it. I didn’t know if I was onto something interesting or if I knew what I was doing. I felt kind of alone.
Camille A. Brown was at NYU as a guest choreographer. She pulled me into the hallway and said, “You’ve got to make work. You have a very interesting voice. Do not be discouraged when people aren’t sure how to react; keep making work. I think that you have something to say.”
After I graduated from NYU, I danced with Jody Oberfelder, Doug Elkins and a lot of people. [But] I kept wishing I could find someone that was going to use the fact that I could sing and act, but also that I had good, solid technical training. I was hungry to speak my own language.
ArtsATL: Can you describe your language?
Reaves: My language is composed of very technical elements, but there’s also permission to respond organically, whether it’s with a vocal sound that is more organic than technical, or if it’s physical movement that’s more of an organic gesture than a technical one; and looking at those two things, how different they are, and using them together.
I enjoy serious athleticism and great technicality. I still practice vocally all the time. I also love saying that everything can be dance and everything can be sound. I mix those things together to create a larger canvas, a larger paint bucket, a larger basket of choices.
ArtsATL: How did you get the idea for “Rapture of the Heroine (Guuurrl)”?
Reaves: The idea started to form when I became more aware of how much real life these women always have going on, with their dancing, just like everybody. It’s because of where I am in my life as an artist and how difficult it is to survive in New York. You make such sacrifices, and it is so hard. I work every day of the week, usually three jobs a day, just to scrape by. Now that I’m trying to also fund my own dream, it’s unbelievably difficult.
Because of those struggles and the reality of living as a dancer, when I came back [to teach in a workshop at Georgia State], I was more aware … that as people’s lives go on, and as they have unbelievable challenges, great joys and great sorrows, these women were coming to rehearsal. It seemed to me that the commitment to dance in their lives was very special.
ArtsATL: What does it mean to you to come back to Zoetic, to create a piece of this size and depth?
Reaves: It is phenomenal. It’s nurturing and nourishing and it’s enabling. I’m able to launch my company with a nostalgic, fantastic work. It’s a lot of fun because I know these women and because I came from this place. I get help learning how to write a grant from Melanie [Lynch-Blanchard] and how to do so many things administratively.
Melanie is giving me a lot of space to make my own work with the dancers. She’s been very patient, letting me find my own voice and just supporting it. The thing about being a dancer is, you feel alone a lot. You don’t feel like anyone’s around helping. It’s always this mentality of “work, work, work; don’t give up, don’t give up; persevere; will power, will power. Don’t cry.”
But then, here is this person who is helping. Melanie’s been around at all the right times, as soon as I needed her, but she’s giving me space to figure it out myself. She’s giving me the chance to build something for myself so that I could build my future, and a life.
It’s a giving tree that’s giving back, and it has given back so much to me.
Find out how Reaves came up with the title of her new piece on our Facebook page.