20 People to Watch - Erik Thurmond: The experimental choreographer

From the stage to the cemetery, dancer finds no space off limits

To hear choreographer Erik Thurmond rattling off the cities and programs he has danced in, you’d think he’s an 80-year-old man reflecting on a full career. But in reality, the 25-year-old Atlanta native has just taken off as a dancemaker and performer, combining the wisdom of travel and experience with a youthful, exuberant joy for his craft.

Thurmond spent years training in New York City, first at the prestigious American Musical and Dramatic Academy, then the Ailey School at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. China came next, followed by Brussels, Amsterdam, London, and then a nine-month stay in Tel Aviv. About three years ago, Thurmond made another move — back to his parents’ house in Atlanta.

Though he didn’t originally plan on sticking around, he couldn’t shake the city’s grasp. “Atlanta had changed so much since I had been gone, and really just wrapped me up and supported me,” Thurmond says.

In addition to dancing full time for CORE Performance Company in Decatur, Thurmond has performed freelance for many of the city’s choreographers. If you’ve been to any dance shows in the past three years, you’ve likely seen his exquisitely expressive technique and infectious smile. But it’s in choreographing his own works that Thurmond has masterfully blended the diversity of his training and that contagious fascination with what he calls “love of play” or “going full pretend-mode.”

Thurmond’s creativity has transformed some of Atlanta’s most unlikely locations. Last summer he reimagined the Druid Hills Baptist Church as a sparse, 360-degree wrestling-style arena for Meh Meh. Working in collaboration with dancer Nicholas Goodly, musician Ben Coleman, and visual artists Aubrey Longley-Cook and Kevin Byrd, he questioned constructions of masculinity and desire with aggressive movement. “I want to be making things in a space that I feel is charged, and alive, and lit and real,” he says.

In his most recent project, and so we wandered still, with frequent performance partner MaryGrace Phillips, the two friends led audiences through the Decatur Cemetery, exploring the journey and cycles of life and death.

“There’s so much space here,” Thurmond says. “And it’s such a joy to give myself that space and time to just play and fantasize and go to those weird places.”

Thurmond gets to go to any weird place he can dream of as a 2015 Dashboard Co-op Artist. As part of Dasboard’s push to expose other cities to the talents of local artists, Thurmond’s work will be showcased in New Orleans, New York City, and Los Angeles. The Goat Farm’s Tanz Farm has commissioned a performance piece to debut in the spring at the historic Rhodes Theatre, where Thurmond will dissect the Greek myth of Narcissus and Echo.

“It’s fascinating to me that I’ve come back to the ground that I was raised on, and have reinserted myself into child’s play to create,” he says.