What happens to a dance when the creator-performer who once breathed life into every movement and gesture is gone? As time leaps onwards, who grasps the golden thread that ties bygone pioneers to contemporary innovators?
Carolyn Stine McLaughlin pondered these questions as she programmed the 20th Annual Inman Park Dance Festival. The lineup on Saturday and Sunday, April 23 and 24, aims to transport audiences through 350 years of concert dance. Both performances are free and will take place at The Trolley Barn in Inman Park. They are part of the larger Inman Park Festival and Tour of Homes, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this spring and features a juried art exhibition, live music, a community market and a curated tour of historic homes.
“Because of the nature of dance, the opportunities to see historic works are very few and far between,” says McLaughlin. “If you own a painting, you can look at it whenever you want. Pictures of paintings are great, and recordings of dance are great, but live performance is the quintessential way to experience the work.”
McLaughlin choreographs and teaches through her studio, Movement Arts Atlanta, and is passionate about presenting historic dance, classical ballet and modern dance side by side, illustrating how one form blossoms out of the other.
For this year’s festival, Atlanta Historic Dance will perform dances from the mid-1600s that laid the foundation for concert dance. The company is directed by Kat Nagar, who studied historic dance at Stanford’s Baroque Music and Dance Workshop and with Consort de Dance Baroque in England.
The Georgia Ballet will represent ballet’s classical era with excerpts from Marius Petipa’s dazzling Paquita, first performed in 1846. (Atlanta Ballet will perform Paquita on their mixed bill May 13-15 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center.)
In transitioning from ballet to modern, McLaughlin decided to bring dance pioneer Isadora Duncan into the picture via the work of modern choreographer José Limón, who considered Duncan his “dance mother.”
In 1971, the year before he died, Limón created Dances for Isadora as a tribute to her. The work is composed of solos for five women, each evoking a different facet of Duncan’s colorful and tragic life.
McLaughlin licensed the work and brought former Limón dancer and reconstructor Natalie Desch to Atlanta recently to set three of these powerful solos on Atlanta dancers Mercy Matthews, Andie Knudson and Julianna Feracota.
“It is astounding that these small details have been able to be passed on from generation to generation, and I feel lucky to hold this knowledge in my mind and body,” says Feracota, who will perform the tragic solo “Niobe.” “I’ve enjoyed exploring parts of Duncan’s history through Limón’s movement vocabulary, which was highly influenced by her. I am glad that Limón was willing to explore the darker sides of her history and used his own movement style to honor her legacy.”
McLaughlin hopes audiences will be able to trace the threads that bind these dances together — from the baroque footwork echoed in classical ballet, through the freedom of Duncan’s Greek-inspired solos as interpreted by Limón, to the intricate hand gestures layered within modern choreography.
“Contemporary artists need to remember what came before them,” adds McLaughlin. The rehearsal process was a balance between keeping the integrity of the original choreography and tailoring each movement to the individual dancers she says. “It’s good for us to honor the people who came before us and appreciate their work.”
Three contemporary Atlanta companies will also perform at this year’s festival.
Full Radius Dance — part of the festival since its inception — will offer excerpts from its newest work, Undercurrents. Ballethnic Dance Company, which has appeared in 15 of the festivals, will present two duets, one set to Brian McKnight’s “Another You” and the second set to Vivaldi’s “Autumn” from The Four Seasons.
Finally, festival newcomer ImmerseATL, founded by Sarah Hillmer in 2017, will usher in the next generation of emerging, contemporary artists with excerpts from BEAST performed by five dancers. (Photo at top)
McLaughlin is an Atlanta native and a 25-plus-year resident of the Inman Park neighborhood. She founded the Inman Park Dance Festival in 2001. Since then, the event will have presented 39 free performances and engaged hundreds of Georgia’s movement artists.
In September, she will do a deeper dive into Duncan’s life and legacy in her ambitious new project, A Time with Isadora. The three Duncan solos will be performed along with new works by Douglas Scott, artistic/executive director of Full Radius Dance, George Staib, artistic director of Staib Dance, and McLaughlin herself. There will also be a moderated discussion.
“We have all these connections to the past, and if we choose to acknowledge and honor them, I think it will make us stronger in the present,” says McLaughlin.
Amanda Sieradzki (MFA) is an arts journalist, dance educator and artistic director of dance company Poetica. She teaches on faculty at the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida, and writes for Creative Pinellas’ Arts Coast Journal, the Tallahassee Council on Culture & Arts, DIYdancer Magazine and ArtsATL.