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Kyle Abraham returns to Atlanta to headline this year's Off the EDGE program.

Preview: Off the EDGE returns to the Rialto Center, curated by dance master Ilter Ibrahimof

Kyle Abraham returns to Atlanta to headline this year's Off the EDGE program.
Kyle Abraham returns to Atlanta to headline this year’s Off the EDGE program.

Off the EDGE, the exciting and exhilarating biennial dance festival, returns to the Rialto Center for the Arts Friday and Saturday. 

Since 2012, an eclectic roster of global artists — who are united by diversity and committed to innovation — has enchanted dance audiences. With two separate concerts, each featuring renowned companies alongside local choreographic voices, the range feels even more varied now than in the past. 

Off the EDGE will be highlighted by the choreography of MacArthur Foundation fellowshop winner Kyle Abraham, as well as the modern flamenco of Montreal’s La Otra Orilla. Also featured are performances by Germany’s Gauthier Dance, Toronto’s Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie, New York’s all-male Madboots Dance, the Kennesaw State University Dance Company, featuring choreography by Israeli choreographer Ido Tadmor, and Atlanta Ballet’s Wabi Sabi.

As part of Off the EDGE, CORE Performance Company will present Edge in Unexpected Spaces: Museums as Space. CORE will present commissioned works by Atlanta contemporary choreographers: Gregory Catellier, Kristin O’Neal, Sharon Carelock and CORE Performance Company member Erik Thurmond, who will create his first piece for his fellow company members. Sharon Vanzanna, guest choreographer from Israel, will also offer a work for the program. 

Ilter Ibrahimof
Ilter Ibrahimof

Edge in Unexpected Places: Museums as Space will be presented Friday and Saturday in the lobby of 55 Park Place at 6 p.m. Admission is free. Audiences may then walk from this event to the Rialto Center for the mainstage performance of Off the EDGE.

Leslie Gordon, director of the Rialto, along with Kennesaw State University, co-presents the weekend festivities under the artistic advisorship of Montreal-based Ilter Ibrahimof. (Full disclosure: Ivan Pulinkala, the chair of KSU’s dance department, is on ArtsATL’s board of directors.)

Ibrahimof is the director of Sunny Artist Management, an agency dedicated to promoting dance of all kinds. A native of Istanbul, Ibrahimof founded his agency in 2004 in New York City, then moved to Montreal in 2008.

ArtsATL had the opportunity to speak with him by phone recently while he was driving from Toronto to Cleveland. Ibrahimof shared what he looks for in putting together a dance event, and what a well-curated show can deliver in terms of aesthetics and challenges for the audience.

ArtsATL: What prompted you to create an agency specifically devoted to dance, considering your background in college was fundamentally theater?

Ilter Ibrahimof: I love dance. I graduated with a B.A. in theater studies and concentration in dance from Emerson College and operated on a gut feeling to create Sunny Artist Management 12 years ago. I found that there was a whole new world of professional dance artists that were being underserved and deserving of much more attention. I started building a roster of artists, people who were saying unique things in unique ways. I wanted to get these companies on stages and in venues that they would not have been on before. 

Wabi Sabi's Nadia Mara
Wabi Sabi’s Nadia Mara

ArtsATL: Do you consider yourself a promoter or an excavator of sorts? 

Ibrahimof: I actually think of myself as a seller not a buyer; that should be said. I also cannot deny that I think I have helped push important voices forward. I work with artists in different ways depending on their individual voice. My first objective is to choose top quality dancers and choreographers, identifying those who excel at their particular genre of dance. I feel as though I accomplished this task when I read an especially powerful review of a concert I curated in the New York Times. It said “I am not sure what he is doing, but I do know it is being done the way it is supposed to be done.”

I actively seek dance of all types. I am drawn to world dance forms that offer good energy and a great experience to the audience. For example, I brought an aboriginal dance group to a festival in Toronto, and have also produced tap and flamenco. I want to give people the chance to see different traditions that are steeped in rigorous training and honest storytelling. I guess you can think of these curated events as a tasting menu for dance with the common thread of quality.

ArtsATL: Do you ever worry that people won’t “get it.”

Ibrahimof: I think it is really important to expose audiences to a wide range of movement styles, and when they attend a curated concert, the opportunity seems perfect. 

ArtsATL: When you make your choices, do you consider the audience or your personal aesthetics?

Ibrahimof: A good curator’s eye has to consider and remember the atmosphere or the climate of each city or venue. And again, has to trust their gut. I see a lot of dance — consciously and unconsciously I absorb a lot. I like to think I organically curate concerts and realize that people like Leslie Gordon have to trust my taste. I have to build that trust. When making my decisions, I think I select an equal ratio of celebrated, well-known companies as well as those who might not have had the chance to be seen by larger audiences. 

ArtsATL: So, you truly attempt to connect to all the work you see and consider?

Choreographer/dancer Erik Thurmond
Choreographer/dancer Erik Thurmond

Ibrahimof: I make it a point to see the work first-hand before making big choices. Many times an idea will look great on paper, but I must see it either on video or live to get the proper representation of the work. This can be a tough position to be in. Some artists may not have the awareness of what they are making and it becomes really difficult to break the news that they weren’t selected for representation or a program. Almost always, I try to have a deeper conversation with them to let them know how I am perceiving their material. 

Of course, good curators also have to put forward certain companies that they may not like, this should also be part of their job. I can be jaded but I cannot let that affect my decisions. I need to give audiences what they want, and maybe even challenge them a little bit. 

ArtsATL: I assume you enjoy seeing how different dance audiences cross-pollinate at a curated event?

Ibrahimof: I love seeing the excitement that builds from piece to piece. Each dance acts as a bridge to the next and I have sensed really good energy and excitement from shows that offer a dynamic variety of genres. 

Sometimes all anyone needs to do is give something different a chance. If nothing else, I like to think I can help generate buzz over someone’s work and I can also help audiences understand the value of what they are seeing.