On the day I came to observe a Watershed Dance Theatre’s rehearsal, just a couple weeks ahead of their first Atlanta performance on September 8th, the choreography was not yet finished. There was still five minutes left blank in the thirteen-minute piece, yet the dancers were completely relaxed. Artistic Director Sarah Emery was calm and came up with movement easily, taking suggestions from her dancers, even changing things without hesitation if a movement or direction felt unnatural. The dancers seemed to trust Emery fully, even though this process marked their first time in the studio with her.
Watershed Dance Theatre is only a year old. The company got its bearings in Charlotte, NC, and then stopped for a brief period in Florida before settling in Atlanta. The new home was chosen for its growing metropolitan area and burgeoning dance scene. Moments, the company’s Atlanta premiere at Emory Performing Arts Studio, will consist of two duets that combine visual and performance art, featuring dance artists Lara Davis and Beckah O’Toole in With Eyes to the Earth, and Aaron Nedrick and Sarah Emery in The Dinner Table.
Emery uses her own choreography as a base for the company’s multi-media and multi-disciplinary performance pieces. Her layered work and process results in a unique exploration of relationships through the combination of art forms.
Over the past month, Davis and O’Toole have been working with Emery to recreate With Eyes to The Earth. Emery first created this piece as a solo for an independent project in 2015. The same year, she expanded it to include another dancer with Moving Poets Theatre of Dance in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she was a principal dancer before becoming the artistic director. In this new version, the two dancers will perform separate solos and establish their characters individually before connecting in a longer duet. Characters and relationships are a recurring theme in Watershed Dance Theatre. “In my mind, the dancers have to have a reason behind their movement,” says Emery. “Dance has the ability to stir up so much emotion, especially for the dancer. When a dancer has a reason or a character behind their movement, I feel the movement is more honest.”
O’Toole and Davis play with weight sharing and acknowledging one another in the duet, whereas in the solos, their focus is primarily internal. Ballet is at the root of Emery’s choreography, with repeated extensions and fluid movement. However, the dancers occasionally break their own lines with flexed feet and sharp, angular motions. Throughout the piece, they move in and out of classical ballet movements and a contorted, abstract energy.
After living in Charlotte for 20 years, Emery left in order to branch out as an artist and choreographer. After briefly living in Florida, she brought Watershed Dance Theatre to Atlanta because Emery felt the promise of our growing dance scene. Now that she’s settled and grounded here, she’s focusing on connecting with the dance community and exploring her artistic voice. All of which has led her to revisit With Eyes to the Earth. Accompanied by nature sounds, wordless singing, and chilling string music, the duet examines the evolution of nature and humanity. “Reworking this piece has been a huge challenge because I’m altering it so much but I’m [also] trying to stay true to what the original concept was,” says Emery. “Entering into the third revitalization of the work and taking myself out of the piece allowed me to see some of the challenges that existed with the costumes and music and work with them in a way that made more sense.” Emery first created this piece after watching a time lapse of a dandelion’s entire life cycle, and is trying to reconnect with this original inspiration. This version also focuses more on the connection between the two dancers. Besides a few costume choices, O’Toole’s solo is the only section that remains is the same as in the original piece.
This is not Watershed’s first iteration of The Dinner Table either. Emery originally created it as a film. In this re-imagined version, the film will be projected behind live performers, Emery and Nedrick. “Watershed is really a vehicle for me to be able to express myself,” says Emery, “and create work – work with other artists and work with dancers. I just want to keep it open to opportunities.” In addition to this first opportunity performing at Emory University, Emery hopes to establish a yearly evening-length performance series for the company and enter her choreography and dance films into local festivals.
After observing rehearsal, and later taking Emery’s master class, I can confidently say that Watershed Dance Theatre has the potential to make some waves in the Atlanta dance scene. Emery’s choreography has a unique combination of fluidity and grounding (from which my abs and back are currently recovering), and by placing it alongside other forms of art, Watershed promises an enjoyable evening of creative performance.
Watershed Dance Theatre presents Moments
Emory Performing Arts Studio, September 8th at 8:00PM
Click here for tickets