“This will be home,” announced John Welker, Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre’s director, as he surveyed the as-yet-unfinished but still impressive space that will soon house three dance studios — the largest of which will double as a performance venue – as well as staff offices and event amenities.
John and his wife, Christine Welker, education director for the Terminus School of Modern Ballet, recently gave ArtsATL a tour of the new company and school headquarters: it’s upstairs from MOCA GA in the TULA Art Center complex in the heart of Buckhead. Down the hall, students in Terminus’ two-week intermediate and advanced summer intensive were taking afternoon classes in temporary studios as the two discussed what prompted the move and what it means for Terminus’ future.
This new space is where Terminus will rehearse the productions slated for their 2022-23 season, including September performances of Step the Brain Along a Path at Ferst Center for the Arts and Peter and the Wolf at the Farmhouse at Serenbe, in conjunction with the Alliance Theatre.
Despite a coincidence of timing, the move to TULA from Westside Cultural Arts Center, where they previously rehearsed and held classes, is unrelated to the abrupt separation last summer of Terminus and the South Fulton Institute for Art, Culture & the Environment, previously the Serenbe Institute for Art, Culture & the Environment. (The company’s upcoming performances at the Serenbe community are produced through a separate entity, Art Farm at Serenbe.)
According to the Welkers, Westside Cultural Arts Center, which is primarily an event venue, had been struggling to stay afloat throughout the pandemic and could no longer afford to offer Terminus subsidized studio and performance space.
So in August last year, John received a letter from Westside giving the company six months to relocate. “It was an existential crisis on top of an existential crisis, on top of an existential crisis,” he said. “With the separation from South Fulton Institute, we lost our legal status, and two weeks later, we lost our home.”
Terminus immediately formed a site-search committee comprising members of the company, the board and other stakeholders. Throughout the search process, the needs of the company were inextricably intertwined with those of the school. As Christine said: “The school is what makes the company thrive. It’s not only where you bring in the next generation of dancers, it’s where you train kids who might become teachers, or choreographers or lifelong lovers of dance who support and fund the arts.”
While financial constraints could have pushed them to the outer suburban or ex-urban fringes, John and the other founding company members were determined to keep Terminus in a central Atlanta location. “Knowing what the ‘Terminus’ in our name means and symbolizes, we had to live it,” he said.
The “golden ticket” moment arrived after a performance of Roam in the Wildflower Meadow at Serenbe last October when Lee Harper, founding director of Lee Harper and Dancers, suggested John take a look at TULA, where Harper’s company and school are also housed.
She introduced him to the property manager, who gave him a tour. TULA “immediately moved to the top of my list,” John said. Christine and other members of the site committee had a similar reaction. “The conversation almost immediately turned from asking ‘where do we go?’ to ‘how do we get in here?’” she said.
Everyone knew that scaling up to justify and afford a physical home more than four times the square footage they occupied at Westside would require an all-hands-on-deck effort from the company, school and community, along with a capital campaign.
Fortunately for Terminus, key partners “stepped up in a big way,” John said, with mostly individual donors raising about 60 percent of their financial goal. As they move forward, the Terminus team hopes to raise additional funds from Atlanta dance patrons, government agencies and charitable foundations.
Several organizations have helped Terminus weather this difficult year. Georgia Tech Arts, the Alliance Theatre and Kennesaw State University kept the company performing and creating during its 2021-22 season. Art Farm at Serenbe presented Roam in October. Those performances featured five company protégées in the cast of 10. Three of them were students in Terminus’ Professional Training Program, an example of how the school prepares young dancers for professional careers.
Westside worked with them, too, providing crucial extra weeks to accommodate inevitable construction delays at the new location.
Terminus School of Modern Ballet wrapped up the 2021-22 season at TULA but had to move out again so that construction could be completed. Work was supposed to be finished at the beginning of June, but supply chain delays and labor shortages have pushed the timeline back until August at the earliest.
When the Terminus team found itself without studios or a performance venue for its three-week summer intensive that started June 6, Moving In the Spirit stepped in to share its beautiful new Edgewood facilities. “They were terrific,” said Christine.
Construction delays are not the only challenges presented by the move. The response of parents and students has been mixed. Some have a shorter commute, some longer, and John acknowledged Buckhead traffic can be a headache.
Nonetheless, Christine emphasized that a larger facility means the school can expand its dance education program. “The location is a total game changer in terms of how many students we can reach,” she said.
The Welkers emphasized the role dance can play as an introduction to other performing and visual arts at TULA. They anticipate students will benefit from seeing the creative process at work across a range of artistic disciplines.
School classes, and student and company performances will potentially bring new visitors to MOCA GA downstairs and boost the visibility of other artists in the center. John is already exploring possibilities for joint events and collaborations.
The company is planning an open house when the facility renovations are complete. For John, the event will celebrate “a point of artistic and financial maturity” for both school and company, with the location providing solid physical evidence of that growth: “It feels like this is the second phase of our founding.”
Robin Wharton studied dance at the School of American Ballet and the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. As an undergraduate at Tulane University in New Orleans, she was a member of the Newcomb Dance Company. In addition to a Bachelor of Arts in English from Tulane, Robin holds a law degree and a Ph.D. in English, both from the University of Georgia.