It was perfect weather for an outdoor performance Sunday — balmy with a light breeze — and the perfect setting, Callanwolde Fine Arts Center’s small, grassy amphitheater, encircled by trees in full leaf. Add 12 very talented dancers and a firefly or two for atmosphere, and you have the final performance this season of the Kit Modus contemporary dance company, which is in residence at the center.
The evening, titled VCR Session II, was proof that Atlanta has a wealth of excellent, well-trained dancers. Their professionalism onstage was evident in all four works, each created by a different choreographer. Kit Modus founder and director Jillian Mitchell is the only one based in Atlanta. The other dance makers — Alexander Espinoza from Spain, Rubén Julliard from France and Maddie Hanson from New York City — created their works via Zoom. It was an ambitious undertaking, with mixed results.
All four works stood firmly in the contemporary dance vein, with Mitchell’s revealing slightly more ballet technique and lyricism. Contemporary technique can be dynamic, exciting and expressive, but it suffered here from the too-much gene: Too much movement compressed into fast-moving phrases that propelled the dancers forward from start to finish with few changes in pace, no time for the work to breathe, and no time for the audience to absorb and feel the impact and purpose of the work. Only the fourth piece, Julliard’s Outcast, provided more diverse pacing, giving the dancers space to express emotion.
The evening opened with Espinoza’s Ikebana. It was anchored by a memorable movement phrase — wing-like motions with the elbows raised, a slap of the chest, arms extended, then a slight backbend and head roll. The phrase was effectively repeated, deconstructed and built upon. Midway through, the six dancers executed a lovely canon of movement in a line across the stage. The second work, Hanson’s The Space That Is Holding Us, featured contact between pairs of dancers — a full-body embrace, a tap on the shoulder, hands on another’s face. Again, the phrases were expertly developed. Mitchell’s dynamic piece, Purgatory, featured all 12 Kit Modus dancers, an electronic score and an effective percussive duet.
The first three works had plenty of spatial diversity — the dancers moved from upward stretches to drops and slides to the floor, from facing front to facing the stage’s unique stone wall at the back, sometimes in unison, sometimes not — but by this point I was longing for a breather, for less dense and busy movement. The final work delivered. Julliard gave the dancers expressive arm and hand gestures, as if talking with their hands, and a section in which all six dancers executed percussive out breaths like sobs. There were moments of stillness, slow sections and fast. The dancers had time to express emotion, and it worked.
Sadly, the professionalism onstage didn’t extend to the evening’s overall presentation. The stage lighting was poor, comprised of several overhead lights that provided limited, unchanging illumination. Each work began with a pre-recorded audio introduction from the choreographer, amplified by one small speaker. It was difficult to hear, even without the crickets and the occasional plane flying overhead. The capacity audience would have benefited from a printed program or QR code, and an in-person introduction like those given by company directors at Georgia Tech Skyline Series performances.
Mitchell has said in interviews that she’s developing the company largely on her own, given that she doesn’t have a board of directors. A good next step would be for Kit Modus to obtain funding for professional production support on par with the quality of its performance. That will take this fine young ensemble to the next level. The dancers, and their audiences, deserve it.