Raianna Brown’s Komansé Dance Theater Highlights Social Activism, Artistic Movement

Photo Credit:  Bubba Carr
Wearing a black turtleneck shirt in front of a black backdrop, Artistic Director of Komansé Dance Theater Raianna Brown poses for a headshot.

June 14, 2023
Volume 4 Issue 3
By: Carson Mason

When she was a kid, Atlanta native Raianna Brown wrote in her journal that she wanted to start a dance company before she was 25.

Brown’s childhood dream turned to reality when she founded Komansé Dance Theater while still an undergraduate student at Georgia Tech. While it’s unlikely for an artist so young to create a professional dance company, Komansé’s mission to engage the community around social justice issues has provided the very support Brown needed.

“Being involved in community service and making sure that we are serving the community that we are creating art for has always stayed with us,” Brown says as the company’s artistic director.

Now 28, Brown recently reflected on her trajectory to date, which started with large-scale live productions and shifted to film during the COVID-19 pandemic, only to return to the live performance stage. 

After Brown graduated with a dual degree in dance from Emory University and industrial engineering from Georgia Tech in 2017, she made an immediate impact on the Atlanta dance scene by leading collaborative projects that educated and bettered the community. 

“It was honestly really awesome and such a blessing that so many of my friends and peers were just down to become a part of Komansé and work with us,” Brown says of her first project. 

One of Brown’s favorite projects was a partnership in 2019 with Covenant House Georgia, a homeless shelter that serves at-risk youth in Atlanta. Komansé company members volunteered at the shelter and conducted paid interviews with residents to source the storylines of a performance entitled SKID

Photo Credit: Chelsea Burkes/CDNB Photography
In a dance studio with purple walls and a mirror, two dancers, rehearsing Raianna Brown’s SKID, pose in the middle of the black marley floor. Both are in a wide lunge with their left leg bent and their arms folded into their chest. Five other dancers are seen on the side of the studio sitting down or looking into the mirror.

Komansé also provided the shelter’s staff and residents with free tickets to SKID.

“It was a really enjoyable experience to be able to highlight their stories,” says Brown, who choreographed the production. “We really were able to get to the source and have them feel seen and heard. Not just for their life experiences as experiencing homelessness, but more so who they are as people. What dreams do they have? What fears do they have? To put all those things on a stage was a really, really special experience.” 

Brown’s initial vision for Komansé was to create live shows and large-scale dance productions. However, the company’s performance medium shifted to film in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions on mass gatherings.

Her first film project, Bitter Earth, was created weeks before the pandemic in conjunction with multi-hyphenate creators Kamryn Harris and Ta Nycia Wooden. It’s themed around the edge of hopelessness and what it looks like for a person to be engulfed in loss. Following Bitter Earth, Brown created the film project Reverie in the summer of 2020, which explores the dissonance of being a Black woman in America and the lack of a sense of belonging. 

These film projects helped open the door for a collaboration with the African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta (ADAMA) called Permanent in July 2021, in partnership with Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. 

Permanent’s first film iteration sought to newly interpret Radcliffe Bailey’s mixed-media canvas work EW, SN, but Brown and her collaborator, composer Jason Ikeem Rodgers, were also responding to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racially-motivated violence. ArtsATL praised the project, saying, “The film confronts, mourns and pulses with emotion.”

With the knowledge she’s acquired from live performances to film projects, Brown and Komansé are planning to reignite the partnership with Covenant House Georgia in the near future. The company’s upcoming events include the premieres of 4 Hours in the summer of 2023 and Da Me La Luz in the fall of 2024 as well as a tour of SKID in 2024. 

Photo Credit: Christiana McLeod Horn 
Performing on stage in front of an orange backdrop resembling a sunset, eight Komansé Dance Theater dancers hold a turned out passe and arch back with one arm extended into the air.

No matter the performance medium she has used, Brown has received strong community support. She credits her friends, colleagues and mentors, including Emory dance professor George Staib, for helping her vision come to life. 

Staib, who taught Brown in his advanced level modern dance technique classes, admires her broad vision and mantra of never standing still. 

“Raianna knows and believes that success is not achieved singularly, and as such, elevates those around her,” Staib says. “One cannot help but admire her work because her work ethic is noble. Raianna’s integrity speaks with an equal volume as her commitment to dance, her commitment to excellence, her love for humanity.”

Brown, who is also a commercial dancer and software developer, is grateful for the Atlanta dance community’s openness to collaborate and willingness to share resources. 

“There’s not a lot of ego involved when it comes to collaborations,” Brown says. “Anytime I reach out to someone, I’m like, ‘Hey, I kind of want to do this project with you.’ It’s always met with, ‘Okay, how can we figure it out?’” 

For more information on Komansé’s upcoming projects, join its mailing list here. Check out the company’s past works here

Photo Credit: DeAndre Gresham/SlingShots Atlanta
Carson, wearing a bright pink tank with matching jeweled stud earrings, smiles into the camera. Her blonde hair frames her face and falls just below shoulder-length

Carson Mason is an Atlanta-based dancer who grew up dancing competitively in Greensboro, NC before studying contemporary dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Carson has lived in Atlanta for three years and works full-time as a brand social media manager. She is also a substitute dance instructor at Peachtree Dance in Buckhead. A lover of writing and communications, Carson has bylines in several editorial publications including MLB.com, NBA.com, The State Newspaper, The Charlotte Observer, The Lansing State Journal, The Macon Telegraph and more. Carson is thrilled to be more involved in supporting dance in Atlanta as a volunteer on the DanceATL writing committee. 

Read more from Carson:

Atlanta dancer Umi Iman explores liberation and healing through movement

Aryanna Allen’s passion for dance reignites through Emory University program, Atlanta community