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Wormhole Project taps Alison Chase to mentor Atlanta choreographers

Choreographers don’t grow in isolation. More often than not, artistic development happens through a relationship with an experienced mentor.

In May, several metro Atlanta choreographers will hone their craft by working closely with Alison Chase (below), an internationally noted choreographer and teacher, in a new program developed by local artists Joe Futral and Matt Kent.

The Alison Chase choreographic development workshop will launch the Wormhole Project, Kent and Futral’s ambitious plan to provide extensive dance mentoring, production and performance opportunities for the Atlanta area. Several Dancers Core, Zoetic Dance Ensemble and Dance Canvas are working with Kent and Futral to get the first workshop off the ground.

During his 25 years as a free-lance lighting designer and production professional — four of those years working production for Pilobolus Dance Theater — Futral has been impressed by development programs available to choreographers in New York through Joyce SoHo and Dance Theater Workshop. Now in his third year in Atlanta, where his heart is, Futral wants to bring similar opportunities to Atlanta choreographers. “To me, the need of an artist in general is always to push forward,” Futral told me. “There’s a drive to continually develop and not settle. Any artist who’s worth his salt always wants to get better.”

Kent, a former Pilobolus member who serves as a creative director with the Connecticut-based troupe while heading up Atlanta’s PickleShoes dance company, quickly came on board with Futral. He’s already begun a pilot mentoring program with dancer Beth Lewis, a University of Georgia graduate who is currently on tour with Pilobolus’ Shadowland company. Kent is guiding Lewis as she choreographs a new work for Brooks and Company’s “Shorts” concert at the Defoor Center in West Atlanta in April.

The choreographic workshop was a logical expansion of this one-on-one model, and Chase was the obvious choice to begin it. Revered as “the mother of Pilobolus,” she taught the legendary dance class at Dartmouth College in 1971 where Jonathan Wolken and Moses Pendleton, joined later by Robby Barnett and Lee Harris, began building dances through a collaborative process based on weight-sharing. Two years after those young men formed Pilobolus, Chase joined the company, where she remained for more than three decades, creating more than 40 works for Pilobolus.

Since her departure from Pilobolus in 2005, Chase has formed Apogee Arts, a dance theater production company based in Maine, where she collaborates with other artists on highly physical dance theater works, sometimes in unusual spaces. In some of her works, huge swaths of colored fabric allow dancers to climb, hang and spin as if in a world where the laws of gravity have been re-written. Others, like the site-specific “Quarryography” staged at a Maine stone quarry — Kent and his wife, Emily, performed in this — involved choreography for an excavator that manipulated a giant puppet and gently swung dancers through the air.

The Wormhole choreographic workshop is a natural extension of Chase’s work with Apogee. As a mentor in Atlanta, she will help choreographers develop a more critical eye toward their work through informal showings with group discussions and individual rehearsal sessions. After the intensive week, choreographers will correspond with Chase over the summer. Their finished work will be performed in Atlanta during the 2010-11 season. Interested choreographers may visit the Wormhole Project Web site for more information.

“We want the people who participate to come away with the vehicle, with the tools that make people’s eyes bleed,” Futral commented. “We want to see people change the world with their art.” He believes that an important way to accomplish this is “from a mentor to a person who wants to learn and who’s willing to work.”

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