Tanz Farm Thrives in Spite of Last-minute Challenges

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Photo by Karley Sullivan.

A farm marshals the forces of nature towards productivity, but it never controls them. This simple truth became oddly resonant as Tanz Farm, the farm for dance, completed its first series of performances and initiatives last week.

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Tanz Farm is the new season of contemporary dance at the Goat Farm Arts Center curated by Lauri Stallings of gloATL and Anthony Harper of the Goat Farm. Organized into four distinct series of about one week each—last week’s fall series, a winter series in December, a spring series in March, and a summer series in May—the new dance season aims to bring cutting-edge contemporary performers on the national and international scene to the Goat Farm Arts Center and to present them in conjunction with workshops, panels, residencies, and performances by Atlanta-based artists.

Unfortunately, the central visiting company for the first series, Sidra Bell Dance NY (scheduled to perform twice, lead two workshops, and participate in a panel discussion) couldn’t leave New York due to severe weather and the aftermath caused by Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, the choreographer and her dancers are safe, but their unexpected absence left Tanz Farm’s organizers with just two days to create a whole new program. Ticket-holders were offered the option of attending the new program, returning later in the season or a refund. Though the week didn’t run exactly as planned, it did otherwise show something significant: that the Tanz Farm season is built to last. It’s hurricane-tested.

Photo by Karley Sullivan.

The Goat Farm is a great setting for the new season. Goodson Yard, the warehouse building where the performances and most of the activities take place, is huge but always retains a nice warmth, proximity, and intimacy. Other Atlanta venues that host touring contemporary dance can struggle with this. It’s something that shouldn’t be true but is: it’s harder to get excited about what you’re watching when you’re sitting in a cavernous hall with empty seats all around. And when a large traditional venue is full, you can feel a zillion miles away from what’s happening on stage. Goodson had a feeling of fullness, even glamor, but always accessible intimacy.

The first artist of the week was French choreographer Pierre Rigal performing his solo work “Standing Man” on Monday, October 29, as scheduled. In a sci-fi-like minimalist bare performance space, Rigal went through movements that suggested a person newly-born inside a defining world of light, with changing projected geometric patterns that moved about the stage or alternately constrained Rigal as barriers and points of fixity. In other lit spaces he was free to move and explore new movement, with a sense of learning how to stand up or sit down, form more complex movement as time went on, and contend with the light-dark world. The New York Times cheekily referred to Rigal as “a mime from hell.” It’s clever but doesn’t quite fit. Anxiety seems to be the driving force behind Rigal’s work: the anxiety of isolation emerged in “Standing Man,” and the anxiety of group dynamics emerged strongly in Rigal’s ensemble piece, “Standards,” presented by his company at the Rialto Theatre the day before  his appearance at the Goat Farm. In “Standing Man,” from a Cartesian world that defined the dancer, the piece ended with the dancer ultimately becoming the measure of that world.

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Rigal’s work was extraordinary, but equally remarkable was the audience. I go to a lot of Atlanta performances—more, I think, than almost anyone—so I see a lot of different types. The level of ocular voracity and curiosity of this particular audience was a thing apart, almost palpable. Along with the adaptability of organizers and performers to last-minute exigencies, this focused, excited, hungry frame of mind of the audience—yes, it was very noticeable—was among the most promising signs for the new season.

Photo by Karley Sullivan.
Photo by Karley Sullivan.
Photo by Karley Sullivan.

The second and third nights of the program—Thursday and Saturday, November 1 and 3—consisted of a mixed program. Saturday began with Atlanta filmmaker Micah Stansell’s Presynaptic Potential, featuring two simultaneously projected films. It was a nice match to the dance by gloATL that was choreographed in front of it. Nostalgically shot, more suggestive of narrative than tied to any particular storyline, a man and woman on film seemed to be experiencing an argument on the point of resolution. It was followed by an erotic, slightly mournful duet by the same dancers: its fleshiness and its forceful, indeed at times almost violent, physicality suggested a tighter, more personal focus in some of glo’s most interesting and productive territory.

I liked Théâtre du Rêve’s playful romp of absurdist scenarios, the gradual loss of control for ringleader Park Krausen as she tried to herd her troupe as they comically refused to adhere to conventional divisions between audience and performers, performance, and pre-show remarks, but in the end, it felt like wheels spinning without movement, without going anywhere.

I admired the dancers of the North Carolina Dance Theatre’s for their limber athleticism, but the choreography—a meshing of ballet moves with more contemporary erotic strutting and finesse—didn’t really click for me.

Zoetic Ensemble’s work in progress was a trio that started as a gorgeously sinuous solo for Amanda Thomson. As it turned into duet and then trio, it began to suggest scenarios of humiliation and intimidation between women (the piece is inspired by Laurel Nakadate’s work currently at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center and will have its full performance there Thursday, November 15, from 6:30 to 8PM).

Photo by Karley Sullivan.
Photo by Karley Sullivan.

Little things count, and there were lots of little things to like about the week. Goodson Yard has never looked better (and it’s often been gussied up for events). The division of the space—half for performance, half as a sort of moodily-lit lounge—worked well. Performances always felt close, and the welcoming atmosphere and ample space invited socializing before and after shows. Even a venue as interesting as the Fox sends everyone shooting towards the exit the moment the curtain falls: it’s not a space that was designed for lingering. Singer Eliza Rickman rounded out the week with a lovely performance in that lounge-like space. Candles lit the path to the yard, and a projection of the series’ signature image on the old glass windows at the entrance looked cool and welcoming. Programs, website, and promotional materials were all likewise notably edgy and cool.

I was disappointed that Bell wasn’t able to come down for the first Tanz Farm, but there are tentative plans to bring her and her company down to participate in the December series. Still, the sudden shift did show that the foundational structure is strong and resilient. And the burning, quiet, hungry curiosity of the audience on opening night was something else.

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