When I say that the Zoetic Dance Ensemble performed in the Fountain of Rings at Centennial Olympic Park over the weekend, I truly mean “in the fountain” and not just “in front of” or “nearby.” Sponsored by Flux Projects, the performance began with six of the eight dancers in uniform black outfits and white swim caps marching around and into the water. They danced, lifted each other up, and executed a variety of acrobatic maneuvers while surrounded by the watery spray. The audience, many of whom were unaware that there was going to be a performance, was a complete mix of ages and races. Both young and old, they had one thing in common: All were giving their full attention to the performers.
The performance was no gimmick. It featured highly athletic, talented young women going through a long and complicated routine. Each performer was strong, flexible, balanced, and intense. They expressed emotions with both their bodies and facial expressions. As a photographer, I have no special expertise on dance or how to interpret some of its nuances. But, as limited as my dance vocabulary may be, I definitely felt the emotions and sensed the tension in the park on Saturday.
The artists’ statement explains that the performance is about water and human interaction with it. Here is the crux of their statement: “Through contemporary dance, Catch & Release offers a thoughtful and accessible interpretation of human interaction with this vital resource and its power to create, sustain, and destroy. Catch & Release explores our relationship with the environment and the necessary transition from dominating nature to managing and conserving our resources.”
My opinion? I interpreted the girls in black as representing water along with the real fountain water. At one point three of the dancers are caught in a plastic net (a possible reference to the performance’s title), struggling to be free from humanity’s artificial control. Another crucial point featured a dancer in a business suit (who I took to represent mankind) approaching one of the other dancers. She struggled with the other dancer — and even put a dress on her. Perhaps the dress represented man’s history of forcing water to fit into his society, rather than appreciating the true nature of water. After more battle, the dancer eventually shed her dress, and they all danced together, showing man and water in harmony as man conserves water. Although I may have missed a lot of technical details, the performance was beautiful to watch.
“The last section consisted of gestures of release and acceptance of our place in the world,” said Melanie Lynch-Blanchard, director of Zoetic Dance Ensemble, on the subject of managing and conserving our resources. “I would say that our story developed from these broad themes and [was] interpreted through contemporary dance movement. Some may find a literal story line to follow. Some viewers may not. Dance is very interactive; the experience you have is created partially by what you bring to it, what you enjoy watching, what speaks to you, what is visually interesting to you.” She added with humor, “In reality, the whole dance was a struggle with water, but, luckily, nobody drowned.”
When asked if Zoetic’s theme has anything to do with current events including recent floods, Lynch-Blanchard responded: “We have always been intrigued by things that can sustain your life or take it away, kind of like things you can only live with in balance. But, yes, we have been conscious of the recent flooding and climate change …. These are heart-breaking things that change lives forever. Our hearts go out to those affected.”
Anne Dennington, executive director of Flux Projects, commissioned the work after Zoetic responded to a call for proposals. She explained that Zoetic specified the location as the fountain, not just the park: “We were excited by the specificity of the location. The Fountain of Rings is a much-loved and highly used area in one of our most visible parks. We were interested in how Catch & Release could bring something new to this familiar location and make people reconsider the public space as well as dance.”
“As I sat among the crowd over the four performances,” Dennington added, “I listened to children gasp in amazement and to adults discuss the narrative intent of the work. It was rewarding and energizing to hear their observations and to realize the depth of consideration that even unexpected audience members were giving to the performance before them.”
Lynch-Blanchard explained that the Fountain of Rings offered the ensemble a unique opportunity: “Dance is always this way: Once it’s over, it’s gone. Our discipline works well in public spaces, and people enjoy being up close with dancers. We all move at various levels. Even just breathing, we are moving together in the world, interacting with our environment.”
She also expressed gratitude to Centennial Olympic Park and its staff for their logistical and promotional support, but she also added that Zoetic is only one of many unique dance groups in Atlanta. “It’s a large and diverse community with a long history,” she said. “Check it out!”
People of any age could appreciate this performance; the audience was universal in its applause at the conclusion. While the water fountain certainly added to the visual splendor, it was the athleticism and talent of the dancers that truly caught my attention: jumps, splits, flips, lifts, and tosses on a hot concrete surface all coordinated in a mesmerizing fashion. Catch & Release intrigued the seated onlookers who showed up specifically for the performance as well as dog-walkers, skateboarders, and other passersby who discovered it by chance.
Click here for more Catch & Release photographs by John Ramspott.
Disclosure: Louis Corrigan of Flux Projects is also the founder of Possible Futures, the foundation that provided a significant grant to this publication in September of 2010. In pursuit of featuring work that contributes to important cultural discourse, as well as our commitment to transparency, our policy is to disclose instead of exclude.