- Oct 2017
A Performance Is a Multimodal Text
The supplemental text I chose to analyze is entitled “The inside story of Terminus, the new dance company by five ex-Atlanta Ballet dancers.” Author Scott Freeman details the timeline of the idealization, creation, and implementation of Terminus Modern Ballet Theater through a journal-like storytelling of events. As a writer for ArtsATL, Freeman was assigned to observe and report on the novel dance company as its members navigated strategy sessions, funding requests, and secret ambitions. Four months of weekly, private meetings between Terminus’s five dancers engendered an eloquent disclosure of the modern company’s origins and aspirations.
In September of 2015, the Atlanta Ballet declared that its artistic director, John McFall, would be leaving his position. So, Tara Lee, Christian Clark, Heath Gill, and Rachel Van Buskirk, four of Atlanta Ballet’s star dancers, were selected as members of a dance search committee; the committee would consider three finalists for artistic director, and recommend a candidate to the Atlanta Ballet’s Board of Trustees. As they contemplated the final three candidates, the aforementioned distinguished dancers imagined what an ideal dance company would look like. What would be that company’s values? How would the company’s art be shaped and presented? What would its leadership style comprise?
John Welker, the founder of Wabi Sabi, a summer arts troupe that performs modern dance numbers outdoors, was one of the candidates considered for artistic director. At the time, Welker was an established star dancer of the Atlanta Ballet. To better prepare himself for the role of artistic director, Welker completed a degree in dance at Kennesaw State University and received a master’s degree in business. Star dancers Lee, Van Buskirk, Gill, and Clark all agreed that John Welker was the best fit for the Atlanta Ballet’s position of artistic director. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Ballet already appeared to prefer another candidate, Gennadi Nedvigin. During this time, Nedvigin was retiring as principal dancer at the San Francisco Ballet.
As rumors of Nedvigin’s probable appointment began to spread, dancers Lee, Gill, Van Buskirk, and Clark jokingly considered starting their own company if Welker was not chosen as the Atlanta Ballet’s new artistic director. When Welker’s candidacy was rejected and Nedvigin became the ballet’s appointed artistic director, the four dancers, along with Welker, felt defeated. Under John McFall, the company’s repertoire presented a modern injection of dance that Lee, Gill, Van Buskirk, and Clark enjoyed immensely. However, Nedvigin was trained in classical traditional ballet at the Russian Bolshoi Ballet School; his classical roots seemed to wrap around the ballet’s modern repertoire and squeeze and diminish its presence. With Nedvigin’s appointment, the dancers felt that their “freedom [...] was being taken away” (Freeman). So, after giving Welker time to heal from his rejection and prompt retirement, Gill, Lee, Van Buskirk, and Clark approached Welker with their desire to form a new modern dance company in Atlanta.
In September of 2016, the group, including Welker, met at Kennesaw State University, which they initially saw as hosting a potential performance space for the new company. Having been taught to empower themselves by John McFall, the Atlanta Ballet’s retired artistic director, all of these dancers felt that they had a responsibility to create something they believed in. After ensuring that the four star dancers then performing with the Atlanta Ballet wanted to create meaningful art for the city of Atlanta, Welker felt convinced of the project’s hopes and worth. To Welker, it was critical that the dancers not seek to spurn and remove themselves from the Atlanta Ballet’s legacy; their careers with the Atlanta Ballet were valuable and influential. The new company’s motivation must be devoted solely to the creation of a new vision, not a competition with their past.
The five dancers kept their plans to retire from the Atlanta Ballet and form their own company secret until April of 2017, in which ArtsATL revealed that Lee, Gill, Van Buskirk, and Clark (along with nine other dancers) would be retiring from the company. In May, the retiring dancers shared details about their plans after retirement with fellow dancers in the company. Their start-up dance company, formally known as Terminus Modern Ballet Theater, presented by the Serenbe Institute in cooperation with the Westside Cultural Arts Center, would have two headquarters and five principal dancers. May saw the last performance of Lee, Gill, Van Buskirk, and Clark for the Atlanta Ballet. They performed Camino Real, which incorporates both stage acting and dance. Their time culminated in an emotional finale, yet their ending at the Atlanta Ballet marked a new beginning.
Bibliography: Freeman, Scott. “The inside story of Terminus, the new dance company by five ex-Atlanta Ballet dancers.” ArtsATL, 18 May 2017, http://artsatl.com/story-terminus-dance-company-founded-ex-atlanta-ballet-dancers/. Accessed 1 October 2017.