This story was originally published by ArtsATL.
Artistic director N. K. Condua conceived of “Artistic Excellence,” The Adinkra Project’s upcoming show Dec. 8 at the Windmill Arts Center, in part as a birthday present for himself.
“My birthday is a couple of days after the show,” he said in an interview with ArtsATL, “and I saw this as a way to celebrate. So I reached out to some people who had choreographed pieces that I’d seen and absolutely loved and asked if they would like to restage their work for this program.”
The result is a multidisciplinary bill that integrates dance, spoken word and visual art and explores the many ways in which art can embody the person and experience of the artist. Although his selection of material was deeply personal, Condua said he didn’t want to dictate the theme but instead allow it to emerge from the works themselves.
Credit: Autumn Alexander
Credit: Autumn Alexander
This furthers one of The Adinkra Project’s core goals — to challenge cultural preconceptions, especially about art by Black creatives. “Oftentimes, when people see the title of something, they assume they know what it’s about. Our last show was “Revolutionary Stories,” but in the works I wanted to get away from the idea that revolution has to be militant and aggressive and show what revolution looks like for the average person who may not have access to that kind of power.”
Similarly, in describing the contributions to “Artistic Excellence,” Condua highlighted how each piece is an expression of the unique perspective of an individual artist. For example, Xavier Charles DeMar’s As She Goes, a company premiere: “He choreographed it [in 2021] shortly after he lost his grandmother. He didn’t know how to grieve, and creating that piece became his outlet,” Condua said.
According to Condua, DeMar intended to show the work just one time, but Condua felt it should reach a larger audience. “It was supposed to be one and done, and I was like, ‘no you can’t do that, I have to see it again.”’
Thus, a work with its origins in DeMar’s pain and loss has become a vehicle for keeping his grandmother’s story and presence alive. ArtsATL observed the dancers rehearsing the opening section of “As She Goes,” in which news of the beloved matriarch’s death circulates through the ensemble, kindling movement along with grief.
The dance opens in silence. A young man walks alone across the stage.
“You’re walking with purpose, like you’ve got somewhere to go,” said DeMar as he demonstrated. “And then, it’s like you just got the worst news of your life. It knocks the air out of you.” The dancer stops as if struck in the chest by a heavy weight, his torso collapsing, his breath expelling in an audible whoosh, his spine rounding forward in a deep contraction.
As this dancer continues off stage, two more enter from stage right. DeMar offers another piece of the story, “It’s like you’re arguing. What does this mean? How can she be gone? What are we going to do?” One of the women, facing upstage, swoons backward, and the other catches her, lending support, sharing her burden.
While the movement in “As She Goes” has a weight and occasional heaviness, it flows and surges with neoclassical lyricism. DeMar began his professional career with the Georgia Ballet and worked and studied with local choreographers such as Allyne Gartrell. He cited the choreography of George Balanchine, William Forsythe and Lester Horton as formative for him.
In addition to giving artists a chance to restage work that caught his eye elsewhere, Condua is showcasing a new work, “Surrender.” It captures some of the challenges he has experienced as an emerging artist in Atlanta and how he has learned to deal with them. “So many times, you have this vision of what you want, and it’s important to be true to that,” he said. “Sometimes, however, in order to actually get something done, you have to adapt to the circumstances and go with the flow.”
“Surrender” embodies that tension between artistic ideal and material reality. In rehearsal for the piece, the dancers demonstrated strong technical proficiency in the neoclassical vocabulary with which “Surrender” begins, as well as the more contemporary hip-hop-influenced phrase work with which it concludes.
In the opening section, the dancers share the space onstage but not a collective purpose. Each of them takes a series of steps that Condua created and stretches and twists it, making it her own and moving independently from, and out of time with, the others.
By the final section, the dancers gel into a cohesive ensemble. They are perfectly synchronized through complex isolations, powerful jumps, spiraling turns and fluid extensions. Even at the end, though, art still exists as a fragile equilibrium between the artist’s will and forces that cannot be controlled. The dancers exit diagonally upstage in a sequence that keeps them mostly facing away from and against the momentum that draws them inexorably backward and offstage.
Other artists sharing work during “Artistic Excellence” include choreographer Michaela J. and poets Ibrahiim J. El-Amiin(aka Shacoom) and Terrence Pryor II.
Robin Wharton studied dance at the School of American Ballet and the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. As an undergraduate at Tulane University in New Orleans, she was a member of the Newcomb Dance Company. In addition to a bachelor of arts in English from Tulane, Robin holds a law degree and a Ph.D. in English, both from the University of Georgia.
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