“Making work and performing is not enough,” says George Staib, artistic director of the contemporary dance company staibdance. “It’s hedonistic.”
That’s one of the reasons he decided three years ago to create Atlanta’s first multicultural dance festival. (MC)2 moving culture, moving community premiered in June 2021 and will return this year May 30 through June 3 at Windmill Arts Center.
Staib has another very visceral and emotional reason for spending months planning and organizing the festival. Born in Iran, of Armenian descent, he knows what it feels like to let loose at a family wedding where the dancing is rooted in a unique culture.
“I can’t deny the fact that I am plunked back into something familiar that feels like home,” he says, waving his arms to an imaginary melody. While he’s not about to invite Atlantans to an Armenian family wedding, he is eagerly inviting them to learn about different cultures through dance at this year’s festival.
Ironically, he couldn’t find any groups in Atlanta that represent Iran or Armenia, but he was able to book nine companies from other world cultures: Academy of Kuchipudi Dance (Indian dance drama), Alma Mexicana, Atlanta Chinese Dance Company, Berdolé Flamenco, danza folklórica, Flamenco Underground, Lyrik London, The Tap Rebels and VIAUNI. The last three companies represent American culture through hip-hop and tap.
Staib felt strongly about including only ensembles that use the pure vocabulary of a culture without incorporating more contemporary elements. “We’re interested in the preservation of these cultures,” he says.
Dancer Julie Galle Baggenstoss, founder of Berdolé Flamenco, performed in the 2021 festival and will be back this year. A teaching artist in Fulton County Schools, she will wear the long, flounced skirt and fringed shawl associated with flamenco even though there are avant-garde performers in the field who wear more contemporary dress and are experimenting with movement vocabulary.
“Flamenco has evolved,” she says, “but we haven’t lost the older forms. Staibdance does a great job of honoring these traditions. Last year’s festival was produced at a very high level and presented these dance forms as elegant and powerful. It was uplifting.”
Baggenstoss hopes audiences will understand that each dance form is more than movement and represents the philosophy, lifestyle, language and history of a particular culture.
She also values the cross pollination that’s built into the festival. For four days, May 31 through June 3, classes in different dance forms will be offered to participants and the general public. Last year, Baggenstoss delved into Mexican folkloric, a dance form that evolved from flamenco, by taking a class and talking with the instructor.
For audiences more interested in observing than dancing, the artistic directors of each participating company will engage in a panel discussion on May 30.
On June 2 and 3, Staib will moderate a community conversation before each evening’s show. In addition, each company will have a few minutes before or after their individual performance to explain what they do, the discipline required and the choreographic process. “We don’t want to overlook the subtlety and details inside each of the works,” he says.
Staib plans to present (MC)2 every other year and hopes future iterations will include African dance, Irish step dancing and more, perhaps even a full evening devoted to one company or culture.
“We want this to be street fair meets gala performance,” he says.
Gillian Anne Renault has been an ArtsATL contributor since 2012 and Senior Editor for Art+Design and Dance since 2021. She has covered dance for the Los Angeles Daily News, Herald Examiner and Ballet News, and on radio stations such as KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, California. Many years ago, she was awarded an NEA Fellowship to attend American Dance Festival’s Dance Criticism program.