Meeting Lauri Stallings, co-curator of the new Tanz Farm performance series, is a physical experience. Dressed one Saturday morning in multi-colored knitted wrist warmers, a blue-and-white-striped T-shirt, brown flounced skirt, sneakers and navy blue and green knee-length socks, with a huge dark yellow bag slung over her shoulder, she greets you with a generous touch on the shoulder. It happens almost before she says hello. And when it’s time to say goodbye, she does so with a full-on embrace, cheek kisses and another touch on the shoulder.
Between hello and goodbye, however, she departs from the physical and immerses the listener in a conceptual sea where ideas and philosophy flow like a rapidly incoming tide.
“Tanz Farm,” Stallings says, “is a platform of multi-layered actions. It’s about sociability, experience and conversation. Tanz Farm is our thoughts in action. [It’s] a place and a philosophy. Through movement, we move to a destination.”
Bring her conceptual ideas about “Tanz Farm: A Performance Anthology” onto dry land and you discover a fascinating new season of dance, art, music and, yes, performance, being held in the Goodson Yard Performance Hall at the Goat Farm Arts Center through May 2013. At each performance, the audience will be seated on four sides of a large portable dance floor. Stallings is co-curating the event with Anthony Harper, the real estate developer and impresario who co-owns and runs the Goat Farm, a crumbling former industrial complex on Atlanta’s Westside. The season will kick off with a short series October 29 through November 3.
The German word “tanz,” of course, needed some explanation in Atlanta. “Tanztheater,” or “dance theater,” refers to a groundbreaking style of collaborative performance that emerged in Germany in the 1970s, primarily in the work of philosopher-choreographer Pina Bausch. Her theatrical language challenged audiences in new and visceral ways, drawing from the personal revelations of her dancers and incorporating social commentary, primal sounds, mime, dialogue, cinematic borrowings and a myriad of startling images on stages covered with mud, water or decaying leaves.
Bausch’s influence reverberated through the modern dance world, not least with Stallings. With Tanz Farm, she and Harper introduce Atlanta to a lineup of artists who push and blur the boundaries of movement, performance, art and music.
Tanz Farm opens on Monday, October 29, with French dancer and choreographer Pierre Rigal performing his solo work “The Standing Man,” a.k.a. “érection.” It was “a gift,” Stallings says, from the French Consulate in Atlanta, which is presenting France-Atlanta 2012 on Sunday, October 28, featuring Rigal performing “Standards.” Stallings is quick to point out, however, that “the torque of the fall series is Sidra Bell and Théâtre du Rêve.” The two companies will appear together November 1 and 3 at 8 p.m. each night.
The New York Times has described Bell as a choreographer with “an almost garish imagination capable of dreaming up surreal scenarios.” She delves into burlesque, high fashion and the macabre. In Stallings’ estimation, Bell “represents total experimentation. She’s near controversial. She has a very strange gestural world and is not apologetic about it.”
(Editor’s note: Due to the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy, Sidra Bell’s performances have been rescheduled for December. Taking her place tonight will be a preview of a new work by Zoetic Dance Ensemble and a film by Micah Stansell. At Saturday’s performance, Zoetic and Stansell will also be joined by the North Carolina Dance Theater.)
Théâtre du Rêve is Atlanta’s French-speaking theater company, whose acclaimed productions, among them “The Red Balloon,” are friendly for English speakers too. Members of Théâtre du Rêve will have a conversation with the audience before the November 3 performance, from 6 to 7 p.m.
Appearing for one night only, also on November 3, will be Los Angeles-based singer and performer Eliza Rickman, known for playing toy pianos and wearing stuffed birds in her hair. National Public Radio once described her “Pretty Little Head” as a “cockeyed pop song.”
Scheduled for the second Tanz Farm series, in December, is an exciting lineup comprising the Seattle-based husband-and-wife team of choreographer Zoe Scofield and video designer Juniper Shuey; Chicago’s Latin-focused Luna Negra Dance Theater under provocative new director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano; and Atlanta’s own critically acclaimed Staibdance.
The spring series, in March, will premiere “Hippodrome,” a full-length work with Stallings’ dance troupe gloATL, and the final series, in May, will feature German choreographer Amanda Miller and Atlanta’s CORE Performance Company.
Stallings is a dynamic presence on Atlanta’s performing arts scene, best known as the founder of gloATL and curator of the Rialto Center for the Arts’ “Off the EDGE” dance weekend in 2011. Her concepts have burst into physical reality in site-specific works around the city, most recently in the Castleberry Hill Arts District during Flux Night earlier this month.
“We have dragged audiences through a lot of back alleys and back yards,” she says, “and we have not given people a sense of destination for performance.” But now that the Goat Farm has given her access to Goodson Yard, she has a performing space she can call home.
Goodson Yard is an eclectic mixture of rural and urban. There’s history in its bricks and innovation in every corner. The morning we meet, Stallings’ dancers are warming up under the building’s high wooden rafters, amid the debris of the previous night’s Afrobeat concert.
There are no ‘possums watching, but they’ve been known to wander through, if they’re not scared off by the freight trains that clank and rumble by every few hours.
The Tanz Farm series includes much more than performance. In fact, Stallings makes the startling announcement that, for her, performance is often a letdown “because the process is what artists are really drawn to.” To give artists and audiences alternative places to meet and share in the process, Tanz Farm is offering what Stallings calls “four series”: Live, Shop, Feed and WIP.
The Live series is a residency for artists, Shop consists of workshops and public classes, and WIP gives Atlantans an opportunity to see works in progress before they reach that magical moment of first performance. Feed comprises artist and audience conversations or feedback. The first Feed will take place Tuesday, October 30, at 7 p.m., with Harper and Debbie Michaud, the new editor-in-chief of Creative Loafing. They will discuss how private enterprise can be a fertile place for cultural practice, with the Goat Farm as an unconventional for-profit arts model.
Stallings signs her emails with the Japanese word “mushin.” Loosely translated as “without conscious thought,” the word is often used to describe the flow experienced by artists when they are immersed in a creative process. With Tanz Farm, Stallings and Harper are taking mushin public. It’s going to be a wild ride.
Tickets to the inaugural series are available at www.tanzfarm.com.