Unhinged, a favorite of the Dance Canvas audience at the 14th Street Playhouse Friday night, featured two choreographer-performers who spent more time in the air than on the ground. Using two white aerial silks, Rain Anya and Sarah Bebe Holmes of Paper Doll Militia climbed, curled, stretched, balanced and hung with precision, daring and theatrical flair. It was a highlight in a program of nine works, each vastly different in style, genre and accomplishment. (The program was repeated on Saturday.)
Dance Canvas, now in its sixth year, is the brainchild of its executive artistic director, Angela Harris. Each year, Harris calls for submissions from emerging dance makers who have worked professionally for fewer than seven years, and who demonstrate high technical proficiency and a unique point of view. This year, ten choreographers made the cut. Dance Canvas provided resources, including professional dancers, to help them present their work.
Most of the works fell into the contemporary dance genre. Showing great promise was Christopher Hall, a dance major in his junior year at Kennesaw State University (KSU). Amazingly, This Is a Test is only his second work. It featured four excellent dancers from KSU’s dance department and revealed a sophisticated understanding of movement and groupings.
It opened beautifully with one dancer (the striking Caroline Fagan) moving her upper body, head and one arm in an arresting, look-at-me phrase. Quick, tightly focused solos followed, merging seamlessly into duets and trios. There was a sense of weight, an economy of movement. It’s no surprise that This Is a Test will be performed at the American College Dance Festival later this year.
Glimpse was performed in soft ballet slippers and started on an original note. Four dancers in tan tunics stood with their backs to the audience, moving hips and torsos in unison. Caitlin McCormack choreographed simple phrases, highlighting them with the beauty of stillness. This same quality emerged in the group work throughout. The central duet, however, relied too much on the kind of floor work we’ve seen many times before.
The challenge for emerging dance makers is to develop their core movement themes without using too many steps or getting lost in the weeds as the work progresses. Annalee Traylor’s Dreaming Eternity opened sweetly, with Traylor leaning her chin into James Barrett’s hand before they ran backward, alternating with one another. The piece closed with them running in unison, a nice bookend. In between they flew through a duet that was filled with the exhilaration of first love, but which would have benefited from fewer steps.
Fuerta, Meg Morrissey’s piece for 10 dancers, opened the program. It moved thematically from a woman preening in front of a mirror, supported by a man, to her standing tall and self-confident without the man at the end. Alyson Quigley was all fluidity and focus in the carefully wrought central role, but the group choreography could use more work. It seemed more distracting than supportive.
Dance Canvas is an admirable and much-needed enterprise, but viewing the end product — the choreography itself — requires a flexible point of view. These are emerging artists, after all, and it doesn’t seem fair to critique them too harshly. The two ballet pieces, however — Simply Couture by James R. Atkinson Jr., and The Rose, choreographed and performed by Kelsey Bartman — were a disappointing illustration of where ballet is today. Both were performed en pointe. Simply Couture comprised standard classical vocabulary punctuated by fashion runway posing for three female dancers in tutus. The only man in the piece, Camilo Cardenas Herrera from the Montgomery Ballet, is a prodigious turner, but his brief solos seemed unrelated to the rest of the work. Finally, neither the choreography nor the performers matched the speed and intricacy of the J. S. Bach score. The Rose was looser in style and phrasing and, while elegantly performed, became repetitive.
Toxic WasteHouse Pt. 1 by Morgan Carlisle Thompson presented a very literal commentary on the power of television to numb or inflame. The closing work, Breathe, while not breaking new ground, showed Alicia N. Thompson’s expertise in creating lyrical contemporary dance that flirted with jazz. The seven dancers’ lightness and open upper bodies were a bright way to end the evening.
In addition to supporting emerging choreographers, Dance Canvas reveals the depth of dance talent emerging from KSU and elsewhere. For these reasons, it richly deserves a place at Atlanta’s dance table. My hope is that this year’s artists will continue to hone their craft and deepen Atlanta’s growing pool of creative talent.
On home page: Zachary Richardson in This Is a Test.