ALA Dance to explore home, heart, healing in full evening program at Emory

Credit: Courtesy of Richard Calmes for Dance Canvas

Credit: Courtesy of Richard Calmes for Dance Canvas

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

On Feb. 4 and 5, ALA Dance will present “Magnolia,” a show in which two choreographers explore the complexities of home — as a place, a concept and a perpetual creative project. It is fitting subject matter for the company, which founder and Artistic Director Atarius Armstrong started in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic lockdown.

Credit: Lola Scott Art

Credit: Lola Scott Art

Since then, ALA Dance has led an itinerant existence, performing on film, in outdoor festivals and at The B Complex gallery, offering yet another example of how emerging artists and companies often live and even thrive outside the proscenium theater.

In March 2022, the company’s Dance Canvas performance offered a glimpse of what ALA Dance can accomplish in a more traditional setting when it premiered Armstrong’s “Cabbage in the Concrete” at the Ferst Center for the Arts. For “Magnolia,” the company is presenting an evening-length concert at Emory’s Performing Arts Studio.

The program will include a reprise of “Cabbage in the Concrete” alongside Armstrong’s “nest” and a new work, “Where the Heart Is.” Company member and guest choreographer Patsy Collins will present her new work, “sciath.”

While the Performing Arts Studio may be a more conventional dance venue, Armstrong says “Magnolia” will feature the company’s characteristic combination of acrobatic athleticism with a broad and deep expertise in concert dance. It is an aesthetic for which ALA Dance has quickly become known in the Atlanta dance community.

Credit: Courtesy of Richard Calmes for Dance Canvas

Credit: Courtesy of Richard Calmes for Dance Canvas

Armstrong and Collins both draw on multiple contemporary and social dance forms in their choreography, and the company dancers and guest artists bring a variety of talents — from ballet, to martial arts, to stunt work for film and television. Previous projects from both choreographers have demonstrated their success in using this artistic range to create dynamic, exciting dance.

According to Armstrong, nest, which he has extended and revised since it premiered during last year’s Fall for Fall festival, is about home in the wake of catastrophe. It is a kind of requiem that honors what has been lost and embodies the attempt to heal through intentional weight sharing, conveying how individuals forge emotional connections while helping each other to rebuild and regain a sense of place. Armstrong’s choreography in nest “draws on the dancers’ own somatic experience of home and loss,” he says, focusing on how different individuals may grieve and recover in different ways.

In contrast, “Where the Heart Is” grew out of Armstrong’s desire to create a work that embodies his own experience of home. He says: “If nest is about what happens after a disaster, Where the Heart Is is about what existed before.” The dance is more collective and ensemble-driven and required Armstrong to process and communicate his complex emotions around the idea of home. “Creating in this new way was a challenge, but it has been fun.”

“Cabbage in the Concrete” and “sciath” both explore how home evolves over time through familial bonding and other interpersonal relationships. In an interview with WABE’s Lois Reitzes, Armstrong said “Cabbage in the Concrete” “is all about reconnecting to family lineage and the healing of generational trauma.” It was inspired by the many “strange environments and strange places” in which people find or make homes for themselves.

Collins described a related creative wellspring for “sciath”: “It started with my journal entries about how people stay in something in order to protect someone else’s idea of home. ‘Sciath’ means shield, and the piece explores how we create homes in part by protecting each other.” She said the movement in “sciath” has a gritty but vulnerable quality that foregrounds tension and effort, “jolting audiences with unexpected shifts.”

ALA Dance had to reconfigure “Magnolia” for its run at the Performing Arts Studio. The concert was originally scheduled for performance at The B Complex in July 2022, but it was postponed because several of the dancers contracted COVID-19.

Bringing his work into a more traditional theatrical space marks a homecoming of sorts for Armstrong, who began his dance career as a musical theater major at the University of Mississippi. Making unexpected homes for dance in spaces that connect dancers with new audiences remains at the core of the company’s mission, however.

Collins says one of the things she loves about Armstrong is the way he creates an open door for both dancers and the community, bringing dance performances and classes to wherever people gather.


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.

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL


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