Dance - Daily rituals become Sanity Ceremonies at 7 Stages

Helen Hale's solo performance explores the practices that keep us sane

Helen Hale and I meet, appropriately enough, for tea. Though the cafe menu is 50 pages long, there doesn't seem a more suitable choice for the rainy afternoon or the occasion: Hale is here to discuss Sanity Ceremonies, her upcoming one-woman dance performance, which involves, among many other things, a prop set consisting mostly of tea cups.

"I get up every morning and before I'm conscious, I start this whole routine," she says of her own daily tea ritual. "I could do it in my sleep." Hale contends that it's just such little routines, our "sanity ceremonies," that help us navigate through a difficult, chaotic world and which have become the subject of her show.

Hale will perform Sanity Ceremonies at 7 Stages main stage in Little Five Points during a two-weekend run November 1-9. "I feel like I'm stepping out on a limb by myself," she says, understandably, since the solo project will be in one of Atlanta's largest and most prominent independent theaters. "A lot of my negotiation around this show has become fodder for the show itself because every day for me is my own battle with anxiety and these questions around performance." Ceremonies for sanity seem in order. Though the finished performance will feature the contributions of other artists — film animation by Mike Boutté, a costume by Amanda Baumgardner, a set by sculptor Elwen Hau, a sound mix by DJ Santiágo Parámo, and lighting design by Danny Davis — Hale will be alone on stage for the entire show. "The character is me," she says. "At no point am I trying to pretend I'm not just myself dancing at 7 Stages."

Hale grew up in Atlanta's Grant Park neighborhood and has been producing her own work here since 2009 when she graduated from the prestigious dance and choreography program at Temple University in Philadelphia. Though she mostly works independently and often places herself at the center of her work, as an artist she is never flashy or self-promoting: there's a quiet modesty to her and her subject matter. Her steady, compelling output of intriguing, independent work has nonetheless certainly made its mark in Atlanta. In 2011, Creative Loafing named her as one of "Seven of Atlanta's Most Captivating Creative Minds;" BurnAway named her an "Art Crush;" arts website ArtsATL named her as one of its 30 artists under 30 years old in its "30 Under 30" series; she was a commissioned artist with Dashboard Co-op in 2011; she was a WonderRoot Walthall Fellow in 2012-13; and she's one of only a tiny handful of choreographers who have presented work at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia and the High Museum of Art.

It's a surprising level of engagement with Atlanta for someone whose original ambitions lay elsewhere. "It was not my plan to come back here," she says. As a student at Temple, Hale had her eye on performing in Philadelphia after graduation, but recurring shoulder problems, which culminated in a serious injury her senior year, found her returning home for surgery and having to wait out a long healing process. "I remember thinking 'What do I do now? This was not the plan.' I had a period where I couldn't do much. That was a hard time for me. It challenged my sense of direction and identity. I couldn't dance, and I wasn't where I thought I was going to be living. I was back home in a sling. It was a haunting thing for a long time."

Hale, who had grown up studying dance at Callanwolde and performing with Decatur company Gathering Wild as a teenager, slowly got back to work, creating her own pieces and dancing part-time with various companies around town such as George Staib's Emory-based Staibdance. But joining an Atlanta company full-time as a dancer is something that has never interested her. "I haven't wanted to devote too much of my time to working with any one particular artist," she says. "It can so easily happen that you begin to make work like someone you work with. And you don't always realize it's happening. I wanted to keep things more varied."

It's an independent approach that may reflect her background. When Hale was a child, her mother Barbara Antinopoulos was a visual artist, and her father, Chad Hale, was a pastor at the progressive urban ministry Georgia Avenue Church in Grant Park. "Growing up, the church was full of every type of person you could imagine," she says. Her parents eventually decided to homeschool her and her brother. "It was always a play between structure and organization. My mom would say, 'You're interested in that book? Fine. Take all day reading it.' There's no reason to stop at noon because it's math time ... They were rebels in their own way. They were planting their lives in unlikely places."

"Planting life in unlikely places" may be a phrase that describes the path of the daughter just as aptly as it does the parents'. One of the reasons Sanity Ceremonies is a one-woman show is that it will be easy to take on tour. "Atlanta will always be a base of some sort," she says. "It's a creative community I want to continue to be a part of. But I would certainly like to go elsewhere to study and perform, keep on learning."

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