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Lauri Stallings: The Choreographer

How the choreographer who vowed never to live in Atlanta and never start a dance company has helped transform Atlanta's art scene



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The initial discomfort she felt with the city began to feel more like a nudge to stay and create. "Atlanta doesn't allow you to experience settling," she says. "I dug that it made me uncomfortable. Comfort is way overrated. When the residency finished I turned to Rick and I said, 'I'm not going anywhere.'"

Stallings had no intention of starting a company. In fact, she'd often told the dancers at the ballet it was something she would never do. "But it slowly started to dawn on me that I wasn't making work when I was here," she says. "I was coming here to my terrific yard and all our terrific trees, but I wasn't responding to the city as an artist."

Then Susan V. Booth, artistic director of the Alliance Theatre (where Carvlin had begun working as stage operations manager) called and offered Stallings space whenever it was available. With no goal in mind other than the daily work itself, Stallings began rehearsing with a small group. They seldom danced in the same space twice: rehearsal rooms, the Hertz basement theater, the empty Alliance stage, hallways, stairwells, even a bathroom. Often, they went out to the crowded corner of 14th and Peachtree streets at lunchtime and surprised passing office workers. It was only after months of working together that it occurred to anyone that what was happening might need a name. They chose "glo," a Dutch word that describes "a gathering of people who witness a unique event."

"Starting a company was never on her to-do list," says Nicole Johnson, a gloATL dancer. "We just kept dancing, and all of a sudden it was like, 'I guess we're a company.' It's something that kind of just began unfolding."

From the beginning, the idea of finding new ways to bring dance to the public was central to the group. "We don't need to just make another dance," Stallings says. "I knew Atlanta was asking more from us than that. I thought, 'We're asking a whole lot of them. Why don't we ask more of ourselves?'"

"Just come join us."

Stallings points out that technically, she's stayed true to her desire to never start her own company: "I don't consider glo 'mine.' My name's not anywhere on it. I consider it everybody's. ... And I don't think we're ever going to have the feeling of an institution, with a staff and departments. We simply want to get better at what we do, to support individual artists."

First up in 2012 for the non-company that is not hers is the non-festival Off the EDGE. "I told Leslie I'd rather be dead than have another dance festival," says Stallings. Stallings, who is curating the weekend, says she wants the event to be far more than a typical dance festival, with its ticketed affairs for visiting artists who come to town, perform their distinguished, award-winning work and then split. "We don't need any more visits," she says. "We need to take ownership of something." In addition to a ticketed guest artist series, Off the EDGE will initiate comprehensive artist-to-artist exchanges, free public performances by Atlanta-based artists, a conversation series, a weeklong residency with Israeli modern dance legend Rina Schenfeld, youth outreach initiatives, and a visual art exhibition in the Rialto lobby.

As for the rest of 2012, look for glo repurposing the city's empty swimming pools for dance; choreographing 1- to 4-year-old toddlers in a series of site-specific works; collaborating with National Science Foundation and NASA scientists; creating a "physical installation" on the theme of nonfiction in residency at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center; and presenting a joint fundraising gala with local community arts organization WonderRoot at a nontraditional venue in March.

In April, Rome Prize recipients will be announced. Interestingly, since the prize has never been given in dance, Stallings is being considered under the "Architecture" category. Her proposal posits dance as the contemporary equivalent and successor of architecture, dancers and choreographers as the new catalysts of space and movement. Award recipients are invited to stay in the American Academy's villa in Rome, Italy, for six to 11 months, but Stallings says if she's chosen, she hopes she can bring gloATL with her.

At a question and answer session after a gloATL performance at the Goat Farm last year, a young woman raised her hand and asked how she could audition to be in the company. It's a simple question, not infrequently heard at such Q&A sessions, but elsewhere in the highly specialized, highly selective world of professional dance, it usually sounds as naïve as "How can I join the NBA?" or "How can I star in the next Avatar film?"

"Audition," Stallings said as if sizing up the word for the first time. "Did anyone here ... audition?" The dancers shook their heads and laughed. The company had simply taken shape in its own morphing, precarious way. "We don't really have auditions," Stallings explained. "Just come join us."

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