Corian Ellisor is a fast worker and a skilled multitasker, and that's a good thing. I'm running late for my interview with him, but not to worry: He's brought his knitting. He clicks away at it as I take my seat across from him at the Midtown coffee shop where we've scheduled our talk.
Lately, he's taken on a lot more than just knitting. For four years, Ellisor danced with Decatur's CORE Performance Company, one of Atlanta's oldest and most venerable contemporary dance companies. But at the end of last season, he decided to strike out on his own to form the new troupe Ellisorus Rex. "It's been very stressful," he says. "I didn't realize how much administrative work needs to be done. It's a job that never ends."
Ellisorus Rex's debut performance took place at Mary's, the East Atlanta gay dive bar where the atmosphere is more Grindr than Martha Graham. On a chilly night in late November, the dancers drifted into the parking lot behind the bar like apparitions from another time in vintage suits and cocktail dresses as patrons gathered on the back deck to watch. The dancers performed Ellisor's elegantly weighty, fluid movements to a pop score, with Ellisor himself joining the performance midway through. He took some big leaps and turns that were made all the more impressive by the fact that he performed them in flawless, full-on glamour-drag. And heels. It's clear that the company will bear the indelible stamp of Ellisor's fiercely singular style.
When he's not dancing or knitting, he's often teaching the elaborately choreographed marching and flag-spinning skills of Color Guard to students at Whitewater High School in Fayette County. And he's also busily preparing for Ellisorus Rex's next performance, a meditation on family life titled It Takes a Village. The work premieres Feb. 8-9 and will include music by a live Balkan brass band.
Ellisor is also participating in WonderRoot's Walthall Fellowship, a mentorship program for emerging Atlanta artists that culminates in a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia on April 26. "I've been thinking about ways to engage that space," he says of the new solo work he's creating for the event. "A lot of times with dance in a gallery, dancers are just thrown in. But I want to make something that actually lives there."
As part of the fellowship, participants also choose an established artist to act as their mentor throughout the year. Ellisor selected Lauri Stallings, founder and artistic director of the influential Atlanta dance company gloATL. "Everything she knows how to do is something I want to learn," he says. "She's been lovely, and she has so many great ideas."
After the exhibition, the Walthall Fellowship will end with a five-day artists' retreat on the wild and rugged coastal Georgia island of Ossabaw, accessible only by ferry. "I've never been on a boat before," Ellisor says, admitting some apprehension about the trip. The knitting needles click a little faster. "I have such a fear of drowning it's ridiculous. I'm hoping I don't die."
Whether by boat or by dance troupe, though, Ellisor knows he will be fine. "I've always wanted to be in charge of people," he says about the journey ahead for him and his company. "I'm Type A totally. But I don't want to be like a tyrant. I've just always had this idea that I could gather people together who are like-minded, and we could all rise up together."