A.M. Collaborative’s 2021-22 season to be presented March 12

Photo Credit: Patsy Collins
A.M. Collaborative staff and participants pose together onstage for the camera. From upper left to bottom right: Nina Gooch, Samantha Spriggs, Loren McFalls, Kiera O’Reilly, Jacquelyn Pritz, Frankie Mulinix, A. Raheim White.

March 8, 2022
Volume 3 Issue 2
By: Henry Koskoff

This year’s A.M. Collaborative program is nearing a grand finale, and the second cohort of artists will soon showcase their long-term interdisciplinary projects. DanceATL is thrilled to congratulate these visionaries, each of whom has invested their own unique perspectives and procedures into the process. Moreover, we eagerly look forward to presenting the fruits of such synthetic exploration. The pieces will premiere all together at a live in-person showing on Saturday, March 12, at 6 p.m. onstage at the Windmill Arts Center’s intimate black box theater.

Over the past five months, DanceATL’s A.M. Collaborative has offered nine Atlanta-based makers a community of partnerships and group feedback. The group of participating artists supported and sustained each other’s processes and artistic inquiries, each deepening their own creative practice. With large group meetings and one-on-one partnerships, A.M. provided accountability, fellowship and a space in which to explore and interrogate new methodology.

The first iteration of A.M. Collaborative was a creative lifeline for many participants during quarantine. “It’s so refreshing to hear how other people work on things, even just over Zoom,” says 2020-21 participant Keith Reeves. The digital archive of the inaugural season’s work, which premiered virtually, is available on DanceATL’s website. As COVID-19 restrictions ease, this season’s collaborators find themselves on the precipice of normalcy. 

“There’s been a pandemic, and I haven’t been able to do much so I’m just happy to be thinking about design,” says lighting specialist Nina Gooch. “I’ve always loved the rehearsal process, and it’s fun to get back to it again.”

For most of the partnerships, a cohesive end product is now within eyeshot, with only a few final touches necessary to complete development. But at a mid-process showing in January, participating groups presented their highly promising (albeit half-baked) projects for peer review. The event offered a tantalizing glimpse of what is in store for audiences.

One such showing displayed a coalescence of performance and visual art. Jenn Klammer, a distinguished movement artist and educator, matched with GSU arts graduate Daniela McCurdy for a durational experiment that juxtaposes painted canvas with pointed feet. In this improvisational score, Klammer moved about the stage to a dreamlike playlist of intense and tender tracks from indie rock band Indian Lakes. 

At first Klammer was seemingly independent of McCurdy, who was positioned across the stage, crouching over a set of materials. As McCurdy poured tubes of acrylic onto a framed surface, she appeared to be taking direction from Klammer, who was cued in turn by the music. This chain of influence formed the core of a piece that pertains to the unpredictable. Its directionality is challenged throughout by the modes of connection made visible by Klammer and McCurdy, both distinctively and in tandem.

Such an exhibition is perfectly emblematic of the program itself, which seeks to put disparate artists in conversation. In forming the connective tissue between these local talents, A.M. Collaborative achieves a network of lasting inspiration that has provided – and will continue to provide – enrichment for several spheres of Atlantan art.

Photo Credit: Daniela McCurdy
Propped up are two examples of artworks finished by McCurdy over the course of a rehearsal. On the left canvas, vibrant pinks, oranges and brownish reds seem to bloom into a field of chartreuse. On the right, more muted warm tones spill over large swaths, evoking expansive movement.

For some, such as René Nesbit, this round of A.M. Collaborative is in fact a return. Nesbit – an Atlanta-based poet, thinker and choreographer since 2016 – participated in the previous 2020-2021 session and expressed how the program exceeded her expectations with regard to creative fulfillment while navigating a virtual format. She was thrilled to re-apply, this time pairing with “a different type of artist” – non-fiction writer Shannon Yarbrough. Together, the two managed to occupy the margin between movement and written language, each using music to generate lush material in their given medium.

What arose is a stunning tableau centering around compassion, community, resistance and other human responses to hardship. In January, this vivid investigation took the form of a lively trio in which each character’s dynamic was identifiable as unique. The dancers donned colorful dresses with asymmetrical hems – the flow of fabric further articulating every arabesque. They performed their respective sensibilities with grace and lyricism imbued with utmost technique. Meanwhile, the swelling of violins was supplemented by speech, resulting in a score that is nothing short of cinematic. In fact, the final product will be shown as a projected video – another exciting divergence for the showcased media. 

Rehearsal shot of dancers René, Katelyn, and Nancy (from left to right). They wear maroon, pale blue, and olive green, and each is perched upon their left leg them with one arm extended inward.

Despite her experience in the program, Nesbit distinguishes this year’s process as personally unprecedented. Yarbrough’s literary perspective, in particular, cast a refreshing eye upon the piece’s formation, and Nesbit illuminates how her contribution shaped both her own experience and that of the dancers. Yarbrough’s guiding presence in rehearsal even helped the work find its resolution, which resounds with breathtaking force. Meanwhile, Yarbrough herself notes how the collaboration helped her “get out of her head,” so to speak. 

“For me, writing tends to be so cerebral,” Yarbrough says. In this work, her approach is far more understated. 

Aforementioned artist Nina Gooch, a well-known local for over 30 years, is teaming up with up-in-coming “dancemaker” Kiera O’Reilly for a study of texture. Gooch explains the early concept as having to do with all things soft: soft edges, large open spaces and how smoothness can be counteracted by tension.

With these terms in mind, O’Reilly has been working on a modern dance solo with a heavy emphasis on shifts in dynamics. In one moment, they carved the air in front of them, following invisible pathways with fluid indulgence. In the next, they collapsed in a tight configuration upon the floor, changing direction. This negotiation between course and recourse has become the crux of their choreography, which operates at a caliber expected of this recent UNCSA graduate. 

“I’ve immersed myself in the process of making again,” says O’Reilly. “What motivates me is knowing that I have a chance to show something, even just to a small group – that’s a community.” Gooch and O’Reilly also note their appreciation of the program’s tolerant understanding towards all stages of conceptual development; it was significant to them to have been welcomed without a course of action.

A striking feature of this particular project is the distance between each creator’s vantage point. Gooch is a seasoned name, having created for countless performance companies, although almost exclusively in the realm of production. Meanwhile, O’Reilly represents a fresh voice in the industry of southern dance. The joining of these wonderfully polar mindsets encompasses A.M. Collaborative’s commitment to “an equitable exchange of ideas and expertise.”

Screengrab from a video taken at the mid-process showing. In it, O’Reilly sits in their right hip, facing away from the audience. They are wearing all black against an off-white background. Their arms form an intricate yet subtle structure around their head, and their right foot is arched before them.

Only one collaboration had three participants, making available what was potentially the widest array of expertise. Shellie Schmals, a program manager for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, applied on a whim in order to meet local creatives and “stretch her limits.” Similarly, advanced belly dancer and musician Meghan Hundley joined in order to maneuver her way out of a “creative rut.”

Together, they found painter and illustrator Jamaali Roberts, and the three initiated their electric interplay. They began simply by “sharing stories over lunch.”

Soon they realized their parallel predicaments, and decided to throw caution into the wind. “One of the big talking points we came up with early on was being vulnerable,” says Roberts. “What that felt like, what that looked like – it became our driving theme. We come from such different fields, and we’re all just putting ourselves out there.” With this doctrine, they incorporated each other’s assets. Despite Roberts’ and Schmals’ lack of formal dance training, they challenged themselves to learn and embrace a new art form.

Photo Credit: Courtney Williams
Meghan Hundley smiles softly toward the lens, in front of a brick wall. She is clad in full belly dancing regalia with iridescent rhinestones. Her right arm is unfurled overhead, and she wears finger cymbals on both hands.

Schmals emphasizes how important this playfulness was in their convergence, from start to finish. “When we first met in the studio we were really just goofing around. Meghan brought a box of props, Jamaali brought his drawings, and we improvised from there.” This freewheeling anti-structuralism proved a challenge for Hundley, whose artistic upbringing followed a strict time signature. The work, however, helped her unlearn such preparedness and even led her towards the darker side of her known repertoires.

This project will be presented in two modes. One is a long-form trilogy of performances by the artists, which will take place at the Windmill along with the rest of the showcase. Their choreography is concentrated in the Middle Eastern practices studied by Hundley and involves a narrative of family trauma. 

The second portion of the project will entail an original creation by Roberts – a mural to be unveiled separately, in the neighboring village of Avondale Estates. This visual element will include the motif of a butterfly, which represents “being at risk of the forces of nature,” and seeks to make a statement about African American childhood in Georgia. The subject is personal for Roberts, who is native to Atlanta and experienced a drastic emotional shock after returning from the West Coast.

In fact, he mentioned to us how he found solace in the Collaborative itself. “I moved back to Atlanta hoping to reconnect with old friends,” he said. “Instead I found new ones.”

The sheer range of this multidimensional, multicultural work is testament in itself to the importance of an accessible community when it comes to art-making. In fact, a common interest seemed to spawn amongst almost every team – an interest in recovery. Perhaps this proves the need for creation in the face of great loss. Through the chaos, DanceATL invites you to enjoy this harbinger of hope, companionship and innovation. It’s an event you won’t want to miss.

Henry Koskoff is a Junior studying Creative Writing and Anthropology at Emory University. He is constantly evolving under the remarkable mentorship made available by Emory’s faculty, and is currently exploring the field of criticism as a research assistant. In the past, he has performed on countless stages along with competing in nationwide conventions such as the Youth America Grand Prix. In the future, he hopes to involve dance as yet another vessel of creative perspective and production. Otherwise, he has invested in his dreams of becoming a published poet/scholar.

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