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Modern Atlanta Dance Festival at MJCC

Redemption Dance Theater (Photo by Will Day)

Redemption Dance Theater (Photo by Will Day)

Dance preview
Modern Atlanta Dance Festival

8:30 p.m. Feb. 27, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28. $15-$20. Marcus Jewish Community Center, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. 678-812-4002, www.atlantajcc.org.

By Pierre Ruhe

The Modern Atlanta Dance Festival is the sort of energizing event that is common in America’s culture capitals but is unique in this region.
Yet the festival’s 2010 edition — in two shows Saturday and Sunday — comes at what might be a pivotal time for the popularity and exposure of modern dance throughout metro Atlanta.
Founded in 1995 by Douglas Scott, the festival presents the best of local modern dance choreography as decided by a three-member panel of judges, none of them from Georgia.
This year the festival includes seven pieces performed by seven companies, from Melanie Lynch-Blanchard’s “Click” for the Zoetic Dance Ensemble to “The Last Day” by Terry Slade’s Redemption Dance Theater.
As always, Scott’s Full Radius Dance gets a guaranteed slot as the host organization.
Scott’s seven-minute piece is called “Walking on My Grave,” about what he calls “blurring the separation between the living and the dead.”
“In medieval England, at funerals, people used to actually talk to the dead and assume they were listening, whereas now we talk about the dead. It’s a fascinating change in attitude. In dance, we explore what used to be a hazy distinction between life and death.”
The Modern Atlanta Dance Festival started after a juried festival called Atlanta Dance on the Loose went bust in 1994. Suddenly, an annual event that rallied the modern dance community and displayed its best work had disappeared.
Scott, who was then teaching at Agnes Scott College, stepped in to host a new festival for the often-overlooked art form.
“Modern” dance is not simply a synonym for today’s styles that incorporate the latest moves, from ballroom to hip-hop.
Rather, modern dance is akin to modernism in painting and music — a form that started about a century ago as a reaction against classical ballet’s fetish for virtuoso technique, fluffy tutus and pointe shoes.
The pioneers of modern dance — genius choreographers such as Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey — rejected the conventions of ballet and took pure expression as the primary goal, unencumbered by rules or formalities — or shoes. Their work might be likened to Impressionist paintings or the novels of James Joyce.
“Modern is constantly evolving,” Scott said, “where ideas drawn from ballet coexist with moves as simple as walking or as complex as swinging on a trapeze.”
Over his quarter-century in Atlanta, Scott says he has seen the popularity of modern dance cycle up and down. Excitingly, he sees today not just as an upswing in the cycle but as a chance to put the modern style permanently on the Atlanta cultural map.
“Dance in this town has always been perceived as the Atlanta Ballet, and modern dance was a tough sell,” Scott said. “Now, with the universities [ramping up] their programs and with Lauri Stallings [choreographer of gloATL dance company] performing in shopping malls, we might have crossed a threshold.
“The [MAD] festival adds to that. People are getting exposure, and they’re getting interested. It’s an exciting time.”

Pierre Ruhe is a classical music critic for www.ArtsCriticATL.com.

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