The subject of identity has always taken center stage in the works of Atlanta-based dance artists Corian Ellisor and Alex Abarca. My People, which runs November 9–11 at 7 Stages, is the third show in their ongoing series of collaborations of autobiographical dance-theater pieces that often delve into issues related to race and gender, examining what it means to identify with a marginalized community and how such communities persevere in the face of adversity through the bonds of friendship.
ArtsATL caught up with the dancers to ask about the show.
ArtsATL: Your biographies have really been enmeshed for a while. For readers who aren’t familiar, can you fill us in again on that story?
Alex Abarca: We met when we were spring chickens. And now we’re still spring chickens . . . . We met in our undergrad years [at the University of Houston] and started collaborating once we became friends. Once we clicked, we just started constantly making work together.
Corian Ellisor: We originally moved here, to Atlanta, to join Core [Dance].
ArtsATL: This is the third in a series of autobiographical shows you’ve collaborated on. Do they tell a story together?
Ellisor: They’re each snapshots of where we are artistically, sort of what is at the front of our brains. This piece is definitely a response to America, to all the “wonderful” things that Trump has brought us. For me, it’s also a continuation of what I’d been working on in grad school, considering the start of Black Lives Matter and police brutality. I started to feel I needed to be more socially conscious with my work. That’s brought me to where I am right now: really embracing my identity and having it be a big part of everything I do. This piece is definitely motivated by us trying to navigate in this world, being a Mexican man, being a black man, being queer people. Alex is “my people.” My people are very close, near and dear to my heart. I lean on them, and hopefully they do the same.
Abarca: I don’t think of it as a triptych. But they are each time capsules of what’s going in our lives. Be(a)stie was extremely fun, our running out of the gate, a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed celebration of who we are. See you Soon was like our puberty piece. Lots of feelings, things happening. This is a piece that has elements of both of those. There are celebratory moments, there are moments that are more somber, there are moments that are more serious.
ArtsATL: It sounds like they are all about identity and friendship.
Abarca: I would say this one in particular is about leaning into the support system of who you consider to be your people. We’ve been talking about this the past week. Who are our people? In trying to answer that question, I keep coming back to: recognizing who I want to be my people and recognizing who aren’t my people.
Ellisor: Who’s not my people? That has a lot to do with being a queer person of color. The arts are a very Caucasian Western environment. It’s hard to know how to be authentically myself. Trying to navigate that is hard.
ArtsATL: What’s in the show? Is there a lot of theater and spoken word like in the last two shows?
Ellisor: It’s theatrical, but it’s the most dancing we’ve done. We are also working with a composer [Siana Altiise] who is going to do some music for it. She uses her voice and puts it through a loop. There are four main pieces for the show, and she’ll do the music for two of them. She’ll be on stage the whole time and running the music the whole time.
ArtsATL: Tell me more about the movement. Do you choreograph each other? Do you each choreograph yourselves?
Abarca: It’s kind of similar to how we’ve always worked. Round-robin style. You do something, then I do something. We see how our vocabularies mix and match and flow into one another or don’t flow into one another. Or we make two separate things independently and combine them. We put those through multiple stages.
Ellisor: I think for this process, it’s all very movement based — manipulating phrases, changing duration, time and energy.
ArtsATL: How do you find living and working in Atlanta as independent dancers, both the good and the bad?
Abarca: It’s challenging. For one, there aren’t a lot of spaces to rehearse in. That gets a little tough. Luckily, Core has started a program where they’re providing more affordable studio space, which I think is wonderful.
Ellisor: I feel kind of the opposite. I want to make it happen, so I’m making it happen. . . . Atlanta gives a lot of opportunities. If you want to do something, you can do it. I’ve always felt that way. You want to make a show, you just figure out how to do it, which has been lovely for me. I’ve been able to continue to produce work constantly, which I need for my soul.