Dance Canvas curates the ‘Next Generation’

Dance Canvas’s performance <i>Introducing the Next Generation</i> supports blossoming choreographers and showcases the variety of dance styles Atlanta has to offer, from aerial silk to contemporary and neoclassical ballet.


  • Richard Calmes
  • Paper Doll Militia (Rain Anya and Sarah Bebe Holmes) captivate audiences in “Unhinged”

Last Friday and Saturday, Dance Canvas opened its 2014 Performance Series at the 14th Street Playhouse. Introducing the Next Generation presented work by nine emerging choreographers, both locally and nationally based, whose styles tended toward the contemporary and lyrical, but also included neoclassical ballet, modern, and even an aerial silk piece.

The artists chosen this year were Meg Morissey, Annalee Traylor, James Atkinson, Caitlin McCormack, Paper Doll Militia, Kelsey Bartman, Morgan Carlisle Thompson, Alicia N. Thompson, and in partnership with Kennesaw State University Dance, student choreographer Christopher Hall. The choreographers were selected last spring by a panel of judges. To maintain its focus on rising talent, Dance Canvas requires that candidates for submission have at least some experience choreographing or dancing professionally, but have spent no more than seven years choreographing on professional dancers. Founder and executive artistic director Angela Harris emphasized the unique point of view that each of these choreographers demonstrated to the panel.

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With levels of choreographic experience ranging throughout the seven-year spectrum, these young artists struggle with a lack of availability of professional dancers and theater space that Harris herself experienced several years ago. Dance Canvas aims to provide new choreographers with the professional resources that could be instrumental to the development of their careers.

“We chose the name Dance Canvas because our mission is similar to an art gallery,” Harris explains. “We provide space to showcase work, we act as curators.” The Dance Canvas gallery wants to display the range of dance styles that Atlanta has to offer.

This diversity is also key for Dance Canvas’s other major goal, cultivation of an audience that supports and engages critically with the performances it sees. In her pre-show speech, Harris warned audiences that they might not like everything they see, but encouraged them to embrace whatever reaction they might have to the many dance styles on display. She worries that the rise of shows like So You Think You Can Dance introduces the theory that “anyone can dance,” making it even more difficult for technically trained dancers and choreographers to find paying audiences and jobs. With Dance Canvas, she aims to continue to provide opportunities for dancers to create support networks and continue honing the technical skills necessary to wow audiences.

Dramatic technical skills were certainly on display in Friday night’s performance in the aerial duet “Unhinged”, one of the night’s standout pieces. As choreographing and performing duo Paper Doll Militia twisted themselves through a swath of silky white fabric, audible gasps and murmurs rippled through the theater. But unlike many aerial performers, collaborators Rain Anya and Sarah Bebe Holmes didn’t just use the silk as a tool to move from one acrobatic pose to another. The dancers, clad in bizarrely tattered, Miley Cyrus-esque costumes, constantly moved through and with the fabric; they used it to alternately hide and reveal their contorted forms, like three otherworldly creatures playing in a secret kingdom.

The innovative piece was a precise example Dance Canvas’s multiple missions: to unite original young choreographers with a receptive public, to expose new audience members to technically impressive and stimulating dance materials, and to develop a distinct dance community that nurtures and provides opportunities for emerging members.