Tanz Farm Series 2, part of a nine-month series of contemporary dance initiatives, is one of the most thought-provoking shows of the year. Curated by Lauri Stallings and the Goat Farm Arts Center, the second of the four-performance series will debut Friday at the Goat Farm’s Goodson Yard and will run through Sunday.
The performing groups — Sidra Bell Dance New York, Staibdance and zoe/juniper with gloATL — are the kind of experimental artists who continually push themselves, forging new paths in the process of developing strong individual voices. Their three premiere works, along with music by Atlanta composer Klimchak, whose pieces will play with different sound perspectives within Goodson Yard, may require some mental gear-changing in order to fully engage with each artist’s point of view. But in each case, it’s worth the challenge.
Seattle-based duo zoe/juniper, made up of choreographer Zoe Scofield and visual artist Juniper Shuey, will present a new work for Atlanta-based performance group gloATL. It will be gloATL’s first piece by a choreographer other than gloATL founder Stallings.
Scofield and Shuey are known for collaborative works that blur the line between dance and visual art, challenging the viewer’s perception of time and perspective. Their full-length “A Crack in Everything” has appeared at Jacob’s Pillow, where it was commissioned, New York Live Arts and Spoleto USA.
Scofield said she was inspired by Goodson Yard this past January when she returned to her native Georgia to perform in the city’s Off the EDGE dance initiative. She saw something magical and ineffable in the building’s layered textures of brick, paint and concrete, and in the way the old, familiar Southern light shifted within the old warehouse beside train tracks. “Although it’s decaying and falling apart,” Scofield reflected, “it feels like there’s something constantly being created in the space, and by the space itself.”
The new piece is part of a larger work on being known and being seen. “In some ways, we need people seeing us and knowing our essence to let us know we’re here, we’re real,” Scofield said. “Somehow, the act of gazing creates a sort of skin, like a container that your being falls into. At the same time, there’s a sort of tension and fear about being consumed by others.”
Scofield and Shuey aim to create a physically and visually opulent environment, a “composed container” that allows people to “place themselves inside of it … so they can create their own experience.”
Tanz Farm has offered George Staib, a senior lecturer in dance at Emory University, a chance to develop new repertoire for his Atlanta-based company, Staibdance. In Staib’s “Crevasse,” 12 dancers will perform to a score of ambient sounds, which he describes as “eerie, aggressive, hollow and direct.” The title refers to “the cracks that form when two semi-rigid forces act upon one another,” he explained, and the piece explores how these opposing forces appear in human relationships. It is abstract and open to multiple interpretations. Staib advises viewers to “release yourself from defining and indulge in sensing, feeling, becoming enveloped in a mood or state of being.”
For Sidra Bell, Tanz Farm offers a chance to show new work outside of New York, where her company has a strong presence. (She has choreographed for Ailey II and the Juilliard School and has earned recognition in San Francisco, Montreal and Germany.) Bell trained in ballet, modern dance and a number of improvisational techniques, and she is part of a dance-theater lineage that many associate with the late German choreographer Pina Bausch.
“I have a way of extracting who the person in front of me is, and exploding that and amplifying it and making it a universal human experience … for the audience to have a window in on,” Bell explained.
Her new work will be a departure from her most recent cycle, with stage spectacles such as “Revue.” These often explored the meaning of stage performance with vaudevillian characters like the “sad clown,” who poured his energy out to the audience until he was empty yet continued to crave the spotlight. In reflection, Bell decided that such works were problematic. In a sense, they were hiding behind a mask.
She said she began to think last summer, “I know at my heart I’m a generous person, but I know that ego is there and that there is ambition in me. There are things that are ugly about me and scary and dark, but there are also beautiful things, and how can I embrace all that in my work, somehow?”
The choreographer found the answer in “Nudity.” She dispensed with elaborate costumes in favor of sleek black leotards and sheer black tights. She chose music that jumps from scene to scene as if in a movie, its moods changing as the sounds shift from folk and hip-hop songs to spoken word to the surreal worlds conjured up by post-metal electronic music duo KTL.
Bell trusted her dancers with physical feats that expose moments of imbalance, imperfection and weakness. “In those imbalances, how powerful can you feel?” she asked them. “And what is that showing about your state of mind?”
The 45-minute work now has a bold and clear look, inspired by a pure-movement approach, with “robust, majestic and voracious” dance material. A spartan stage environment “puts five bodies on display, brazenly promoting their anatomy, and thereby revealing their insides.”
Indeed, “Nudity” is likely to generate bombastic, “in-your-face” imagery. Bell explained that she’s interested in pushing audiences out of their comfort zone. “It’s about, how much can you take? How much can you watch? I’m still going to be there. Especially if I love you, I’m still going to be there, no matter what you say or do.”
For audiences, Bell suggests, “If you let yourself be in the experience, I think you’ll have the best sort of exchange with it.”
She said that “Nudity” is the beginning of a new cycle in her career and that it feels like the start of a self-affirming process. “Acknowledging your weaknesses and the things that are scary — actually, they’re beautiful. And they make you powerful, just existing and being.”