Dance companies are often formed to fill artistic needs. For George Staib, founder and artistic director of Staibdance, that need was for an outlet to explore choreography in more depth than he could with his students at Emory University, where he’s a member of the dance faculty.
But he also thought that delving into dance making would enhance his teaching. “I live for the choreographic process,” he explains. “I believed that constant work in that area would strengthen my teaching. I think it has. I take what I learn from our students to the company and vice-versa.”
Staibdance will celebrate its 10th anniversary on August 25–26 with X at Emory University’s Performing Arts Studio.
X will explore memory, cultural assimilation, interpersonal violence and human migration. The company will be joined by former members and local guest artists. On the program is a solo Staib created in 1993 as well as excerpts from the full-length works Name Day, Snap, Versus, Attic and Moat.
Like many companies, Staibdance faced challenges in the beginning. Putting together performances and securing venues wasn’t an issue, but money, availability of dancers and finding a board of directors who could take on hands-on work were continual needs.
The problems didn’t have quick fixes either. “I feel like now — 10 years later — we finally have a board made up of diehard supporters and workers,” says Staib. “Our company feels more cohesive than ever, and I feel like we are just now finding who we are.”
Just as the structural and business side of the company evolved, so did its artistic side — its choreographic interests, processes and, as Staib puts it, the “permission to play without judgment.”
“None of this came overnight,” he explains. “I realize that patience was probably the biggest contributor to our growth. I wanted everything at the beginning, but, I now realize, everything would have been too much. All things in due time — that feels important.”
Staib describes the company’s aesthetic as “very physical,” but adds that it’s also been called emotional. He says he enjoys collaborating with dancers “to create moments, ideas, and situations that might be autobiographical, yet open for interpretations that align with the viewer’s history.” He also strives to create both a sense of spontaneity and cohesion in his works.
Staib’s background likewise is a key influence on his choreography. Of Armenian descent, he was born in Tehran, Iran, where he lived until he came to the United States with his family at age 10.
“I never expected my youth to play such an important role in the work we do,” he says. “But it has, and I am grateful for the opportunity to revisit the things and moments that helped shape me and my view of the world. My Armenian/American/Iranian upbringing had a profound effect on me, and I love seeing the ways our cultures successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully merge. The impetus to work from feelings associated with pivotal moments has informed much of what we have been doing lately.”
In high school, Staib participated in marching band, theater, choir and show choir, but his journey in dance didn’t truly begin until his sophomore year of college.
Though a fraternity party isn’t a typical gateway to a career in performing arts, it was in his case. “I was dancing, drinking, and having a good time,” he recalls. “And a friend just approached me and asked if I wanted to be in a duet. I didn’t really know what she was talking about but said yes anyway.”
During rehearsals for that duet, a dance professor suggested he try a modern dance class. “I thought it sounded fun, and that’s how it all started,” he says.
After completing his political science degree at Dickinson College, he went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts from Temple University. Upon graduation, he sought teaching, performing and choreography opportunities. “It was a slow start to anything abundantly professional,” he says. “But that was fine for me because I felt very inexperienced and new.”
Staib is thankful for the teachers in his life who made it possible for him to be part of the dance world. In turn, he makes education an important part of Staibdance’s work. The company regularly gives classes and workshops and holds an annual summer intensive in Italy. “Cultivating and celebrating passion for movement is what we embrace all the time,” he says. “I credit Emory University and our Italy program for giving me beautiful homes to not only do our work, but provide all of us with engaged and intelligent global citizens.”
Looking back on the past 10 years, Staib says he’s humbled by many moments in the company’s history: their performances in Sweden, the development of their program in Italy, their audiences and the “sweat and smiles on dancers” in their classes.
For his personal journey in dance, the company’s achievements also have a special meaning. “In my mind, I am still a fumbling little 20-year-old trying to do ballet,” he says. “So when I have extraordinarily gifted dancers in front of me, I am awestruck. I don’t know how, when, or why my career evolved the way it did, but, for some reason, I can interact with people whose dancing is sublime and otherworldly.”
For upcoming seasons, Staib is looking to pursue more international opportunities for the company. “We recently received a generous donation to develop international programming, and we look to deepen our connections to Sweden, Italy, and Tel Aviv,” he explains.
He also hopes to expand Staibdance’s program in Italy to include a company tour to Naples and Rome.
[Full disclosure: Staib occasionally writes for ArtsATL.]