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Atlanta's dance scene steps up 

A vibrant and singular local movement takes shape

Page 3 of 5

BACK TO HER ROOTS: Blake Beckham plants the seeds of dance in PLOT. - DUSTIN CHAMBERS
  • Dustin Chambers
  • BACK TO HER ROOTS: Blake Beckham plants the seeds of dance in PLOT.

By national standards, the Atlanta Ballet is a small company, but in terms of the Atlanta dance scene, it's huge. It has resources that far exceed the scope and possibility of any other Atlanta dance company: permanent rehearsal space in its $10.9 million headquarters, publicity and development departments, permanent production staff, fundraising galas, a center for dance education. The Ballet is familiar to many Atlantans for its hugely popular Nutcracker and other story ballets, but it's no stranger to boundary-breaking contemporary work. It brings in world-renowned and cutting-edge choreographers, commissions major new works from dance world legends such as Twyla Tharp, showcases up-and-coming choreographers from across the nation and sets it all on an incomparably graceful company.

The Ballet recently announced the formation of a new company within a company called Wabi Sabi, named after a Japanese aesthetic of impermanence. Modeled in part after Stallings' revelatory approach, the new chamber-performance group will bring the Atlanta Ballet's classic artistry to contemporary site-specific performances. "She's really paved the way," says Welker, who's spearheading the new initiative. According to Welker, who's in his 16th season with the Ballet, the organization has long been seeking ways to reach new audiences, particularly young audiences.

On Sept. 8, the Ballet will unveil Wabi Sabi at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens with some help from Dance Canvas as well. At a 2009 Dance Canvas show, Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director John McFall was struck by the talent of young Atlanta-based choreographer Juel Lane. He asked Lane then to create a piece for the Ballet. Lane's short work will have its world premiere with Wabi Sabi's. There are tentative plans for Lane to be featured in the Atlanta Ballet's annual showcase of emerging young choreographers from across the nation, which typically caps off the company's season.

The Rialto Center for the Arts, one of Atlanta's major presenters of national and international touring acts, recently received a grant for more dance programming, and director Leslie Gordon went straight to Stallings with the idea of an annual dance festival. But the reaction she got may not have been the one she was hoping for. "I told Leslie I'd rather be dead than have another dance festival," says Stallings.

The inaugural Off the EDGE, slated for January 2012, intends to move far beyond the trappings of a typical dance festival's rotating presentation of distinguished visitors' performances. Round tables, workshops, classes at all levels, a visual art exhibition, behind-the-scenes immersions for high school students, collaborations, residencies and exchanges between Atlanta-based and visiting artists will lead up to two evenings of free outdoor performances and a mixed program on the Rialto stage. A broad range of Atlanta schools, universities, and dance companies will participate in what promises to be a milestone for Atlanta dance and for the city.

Similarly, the significance of Dance Truck's slot at Portland's Time-Based Arts Festival shouldn't be underestimated: Presenters often overlook companies from the Southeast, even when trying to broadly represent trends in American dance and performance. Few of us will be there to see it, but when the Dance Truck rumbles up to the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, it's a moment all Atlanta should be proud of.

And Atlantans have begun to show an ardor for their local dance scene: When 100 volunteers gather to hang swings for audience members to sit in as they watch PLOT come to life; when a packed house at Dance Canvas gives a standing ovation to a talented young choreographer whose work might never have been produced otherwise; when spectators decide they won't budge during a summer downpour because they want to stay with gloATL as it performs, they are all participating in something extraordinary.

"This is the only place in the world where this is happening," says Stallings. "And we're all a part of it."

Next: 19 dance companies with upcoming performances

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