The expression “relatable” has long been a buzzword for Dance Canvas, an Atlanta-based organization that gives emerging choreographers a platform for showing their work while engaging youth and building audiences.
With Dance Canvas now in its 11th season, the expression is as apt as ever. The eight works in this year’s showcase may vary in style and genre, but they share common threads dealing with relationships and communication. One way or another, each work tells a story.
Dance Canvas will present its annual performance series at Georgia Institute of Technology’s Ferst Center for the Arts March 22–23. This season’s choreographers are Jessica Bertram, Dorse Brown, Sarah Emery, Gabrielle Gambino, Madi Nelson, Elena Notkina, Charly Santagado and Sarah Stokes.
Angela Harris, artistic director of Dance Canvas, shared more about the program with ARTS ATL as well as news about the organization’s partnerships with The Georgia Ballet and Georgia Tech.
ARTS ATL: Tell us about the through-line of storytelling that you saw in this season’s pieces.
Angela Harris: We were intrigued by how many choreographers were creating pieces based on how we, as people, communicate with each other and the relationships we have with one another.
I try not to read into trends behind what inspires work, but it was interesting that relationships and healthy interaction with one another were a through-line in all of the works that were selected this year.
Some are more abstract, some are commentary and some explore nonverbal communication methods. All of the pieces are so thoughtful about human experience.
ARTS ATL: Contemporary and modern dance works are often abstract in nature. Nonetheless, these genres are powerful mediums for drama. Tell us about your perspective on the relationship between storytelling and contemporary dance.
Harris: As a choreographer and director, I truly believe intention and storytelling are the heart of strong dance works. We know that the majority of dance audiences are not dancers themselves. But the way we tell a story with our movement allows audiences to feel something. Our job as choreographers is to effectively construct the movement in a way that audiences feel and see what we want them to feel and see. That is what makes dance relatable.
All of our artists this season are telling poignant and heartfelt stories. Jessica Bertram, one of this season’s choreographers, expanded a solo work to now be a group piece exploring the effects of dementia on someone. She challenged her dancers to bring personal memories and self-exploration into their movement, and she built off of their memories. Charly Santagado, a New Jersey-based choreographer, studied dance as a movement-based language. Her work literally “translates” poetry, using gestures and movement to “speak.”
ARTS ATL: Tell us a little about your partnership with The Georgia Ballet for this year’s performance series.
Harris: I am a former dancer of The Georgia Ballet, and I continue to have a close relationship with the staff and company. Over the years, we have had several dancers from The Georgia Ballet in our production as performers and even choreographers.
Both Dance Canvas and The Georgia Ballet are part of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable, which the foundation initiated. Through the Roundtable, arts organizations strategize about developing audiences and marketing performances. Our discussion on partnering happened as a result.
We had a choreographer, Sarah Emery, who recently relocated to Atlanta from North Carolina. Sarah is the artistic director of Watershed Dance Theatre and has a professional ballet background.
She needed a cast of strong ballet dancers for her new contemporary ballet. It seemed like a great fit and a way to make a networking connection for Sarah. Our friends at The Georgia Ballet are coproducing Sarah’s work, and it will also be presented in their in-studio performance, Dancers Close Up, on March 30 in Marietta.
ARTS ATL: Anything new about your ongoing partnership with Georgia Tech that you’d like to share?
Harris: We are excited that we have signed a three-year agreement with Georgia Tech and will be continuing our partnership through 2021.
Madison Cario, who recently left the Ferst Center to become the executive director of the Regional Arts and Culture Council of Portland, was instrumental in making this partnership happen.
It is rare for a presenting theater to present and coproduce a local dance company. It helps Dance Canvas to provide a beautiful space to these artists. Having access to a large stage allows the choreographers to create large-scale work to add to their repertoire.
The partnership allows Dance Canvas to reduce the costs normally associated with theater rental and production. It is a wonderful partnership model to support small arts organizations and provide opportunity to working dance artists. We also hold our three-week Summer Choreographic Intensive, DC NEXT, on campus as well.
We feel like Georgia Tech is our home.