Zachary Todd combines his experience in dance and design to support emerging Atlanta artists

Photo Credit: Albrica Tierra
Todd poses mid-jump in front of a bright white backdrop. His right foot is in passé. His right arm is curved, and his left arm is outstretched. He gazes intently beyond the frame to the left. He is wearing a bright orange shirt, a red jacket, grey joggers and white sneakers.

November 19, 2021
Volume 3 Issue 1
By: Porter Grubbs

Zachary Todd has sustained a presence in the Atlanta dance scene for over a decade. Since moving here in 2010, he has shared his expertise as a performer with many different artists in many different structures. From his beginnings in a company as a founding member of Atlanta Dance Connection, to his collaborations with independent artists such as Okwae Miller, Alexander Proia and Daryl Foster, to his more recent — and beautifully realized — experiments with direction and production, Todd is truly a renaissance figure. 

Todd was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he attended the state’s only high school of the arts to study writing and journalism. “Naturally, I gravitated towards the dancers,” says Todd. “All my friends were dancers.” Having run with the wolves for two years already, he decided to take an elective dance class rather than the typical P.E. course during his junior year. By the end of that term, with encouragement from his guidance counselor who also taught the class, he decided to double major in dance. He doubled down on his training over the summer, studied dance his senior year and moved to Dallas to work for Dallas Black Dance Theater’s second company after graduation.

It was in Dallas that he met Allyne Gartrell, who served as the company’s director at the time. After dancing for two years with them, Dallas Black Dance Theater wrapped, and Gartrell reached out to Todd. “When he left Dallas he had a conversation with me, like ‘I’m moving to Atlanta and I have an idea for this company,’” says Todd, who immediately expressed interest in following Gartrell in this new adventure. Todd packed his things and moved east to Atlanta, where he worked for nearly four years alongside Gartrell and others as a founding member, dancer and marketing director with Atlanta Dance Connection.

During his early years in Atlanta, Gotta Dance Contemporary, directed by Rachel Truitt, operated a space that served as a popular location for professional dancers to gather, train and share their work. “The scene was a lot more cohesive. . . . You got to see what everybody was up to because a lot of work was being done in one centralized location,” says Todd. “There was a little bit more of a sense of a dance community, so to speak. There were a lot of people pushing that forward. Once Gotta Dance shuttered, that community did as well.”

Todd left Atlanta Dance Connection in 2014. He decided to take some time to focus on his personal priorities, “to live a normal life.” Although he was not prolifically productive as a solo artist in this period, he still managed to start a summer program at the dance school in Stockbridge where he teaches to this day, and he contributed to the works of many independent artists and choreographers.

Photo Credit: Brian Guilliaux
The Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s second company poses for a portrait together in front of a grey backdrop. They all wear different styles of shirts with pants or shorts in slight variations of red and black. Five dancers sit in the foreground on the floor, and nine others stand around the director in the center. They all smile at the camera.

It was not until July 2020 that he began his metamorphosis from a dancer and performer into a director and producer. He told me that the slowness of the pandemic brought him unexpected blessings. “When I was just sitting at home, I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to be known for and what I could do in the community, for the community,” says Todd. “I knew I wasn’t a choreographer, and I knew I didn’t want to dance forever. I knew I could produce shows because I had done it with my students, but I had never done it on my own terms before.”

In July 2020, he and his creative team shot a dance film called Wise Beyond Our Years. “It was a few mini stories of dance that turned into a big long project,” says Todd. “That was the start of getting my feet wet [as a director].” The film has been featured at CORE Dance in their REEL Art series, Speak, and recently at the 2021 ELEVATE Atlanta Art Festival. 

His latest project was a choreography showcase entitled Room to Move, which he produced in collaboration with Xavier DeMar. “Room to Move was the first live show I produced,” says Todd. “My friend Xavier and I pooled the money together to rent the venue and pay the artists. We formed a team of people whose works we had seen over the years. In less than 60 days we were able to come up with this choreographer’s showcase, every evening was sold out.” 

He said he still receives positive feedback from audience members and artists alike about their experiences at the show. It encouraged him to pursue his vision of supporting and presenting the work of more local artists. “When I first got here there were a lot of different showcases for choreographers and emerging artists,” says Todd. “There were a lot of platforms to see these individual artists. I really care about seeing people’s progress, and I get excited when I discover somebody. It’s everyone’s responsibility to support independent artists and give them a platform to create.” 

Todd’s vision is fueled by the intricacy of teamwork and the discovery of new talent. “I imagine my role in dance to be like what an art curator is for a gallery,” says Todd. “I want to bring people together who can flush out ideas. A lot of my work is based on collaboration, I couldn’t do it by myself and vice versa.”

If you’re interested in keeping up with his future projects, follow him on Instagram at @zchrytodd.

Photo Credit: Jamie Hopper 
The cast of Todd’s first self-produced showcase, Room to Move, poses together on the stage for a group portrait. The dancers are dressed in black and white tops and shorts with black jackets. Four dancers strike a pose as they crouch in front of eight other artists, who stand behind them and smile into the camera.

Porter Grubbs (they/he) is a dancer, director, educator, and writer based in Atlanta, GA. They are the head editor at Into the Proscenium and their work has been published by HowlRound Theatre Commons and DIY Dancer Mag.

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