Site-specific dance in Atlanta is topic of April 6 "Memorial Drive" series panel event

Published 03-20-2017

by Maureen McGavin

An example of site-specific dance, from "Gestures that Soon Will Disappear," in 2014 by glo, choreographed by Lauri Stallings. Photo credit: Thom Baker for glo. Used with permission.

Atlanta has a long tradition of site-specific dance, and a panel of dance experts will discuss the city’s history of this genre that draws its inspiration from its locale on Thursday, April 6. “Memorial Drive: Site-Specific Dance in Atlanta” begins at 7 p.m. in the Jones Room at Emory University's Woodruff Library. The event is free and open to the public.

Stepping outside the limits of the stage, site-specific dance is a performance designed to exist in a certain space – in a park, street, museum, cemetery, on a rooftop, or in another public place. Over the past decade, these dance events in Atlanta have attracted new audiences and a generation of young dance artists. Many don’t know that Atlanta has a rich history of site-specific dance, springing from the postmodern dance movement of the 1960s, with earlier precedents in the form of local dance projects set in outdoor environments.

This image from the Rose Library's Atlanta Ballet collection showing dancers in a site-specific performance is believed to be from 1930s or 1940s. Image: Atlanta Ballet collection, Rose Library at Emory University.

In this panel event, prominent members of the city’s dance community will share recollections of these pioneering works and discuss topics ranging from practical challenges to philosophical issues at play. Moderated by Atlanta dance writer Cynthia Perry, the panel will include Lee Harper, founder and director of Lee Harper & Dancers and an early contemporary dance artist; Lauri Stallings, an artist and founder of the nonprofit platform glo; Lori Teague, associate professor in the Emory Dance Program, and Patton White, artistic and administrative director of Beacon Dance and company manager of Core Dance.

As part of a graduate writing program, Perry has been conducting research in the Atlanta Ballet collection, which includes the papers of its founder, Dorothy Alexander, housed in Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. In the archive, Perry discovered that Alexander had written and directed “Heirs of All the Ages,” a 1933 outdoor performance in which the ballet concert group and 3,000 schoolchildren launched a project to plant hundreds of trees in Atlanta Memorial Park in honor of great Georgians.

“Concepts like ‘site-specific dance’ and ‘temporary public art’ would emerge decades later, but the 1933 event struck me as a precedent, and a point of departure for discussing movement-based performance in our public spaces today,” Perry says.

This image from the Rose Library's Atlanta Ballet collection showing dancers in a site-specific performance is believed to be from 1930s or 1940s. Image: Atlanta Ballet collection, Rose Library at Emory University.

Turning research into community discussion is one exciting aspect of the Rose Library’s vast collections, which span the history of Atlanta and the South, African-American culture, and 20th century politics, poetry and literature.

“This panel illustrates the strengths of the ‘Memorial Drive’ series,” says Randy Gue, curator of modern political and historical collections at the Rose Library. “Our goal is to take compelling research like Cynthia is conducting and explore these discoveries with the expertise of ArtsATL. People usually think of research outcomes in terms of papers and publications, but one of the joys of working in our collections is taking the results of research and turning it into a community conversation like this one.”

The “Memorial Drive” series is a collaboration between ArtsATL.com and Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library that explores the cultural history of Atlanta. The Woodruff Library is located on the Emory campus at 540 Asbury Circle in Atlanta, 30322. Parking is available in the Fishburne deck.

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