Feature Articles

Wakeham’s Choreography Creates Waves

Spotlight on Atlanta’s Cherrise Wakeham

By Deborah Searle. 

Cherrise Wakeham is making waves in the Atlanta dance scene. After seeing her unique and inspired choreography, I had to speak with Cherrise and uncover her magic for movement. The Artistic Director of Project 7 Dance Company and Associate Director for Roswell City Dance, Cherrise has received several choreographic and entertainment awards on both the regional and national level. Cherrise has a keen following in the south, teaching numerous masterclasses throughout the year, and her strong choreographic voice has taken her dancers to perform across the country to rapturous applause. Cherrise and Project 7 are on the stage and very soon they may be center, spotlight…

You have won many awards for your choreography. What motivates you to dance and create?
The layers in a song. The texture of a piece of fabric.  The position of the sun at a certain time of day.  Anything that lends a fresh perspective and offers the basis for a story.  I think life is constantly inviting us to see the possibilities in things.  If we’re open to it, there are endless opportunities to pull from and be moved by.

Tell us about Project 7. What is your vision? What are your upcoming projects?
Project 7 is a non-profit professional contemporary company I began in February of 2007 to use the power of contemporary dance to inspire audiences of all types in a positive and accessible way. I wanted to create a company that would use our energies and talents to appeal to dancers and non-dancers alike in a way that makes dance understandable, authentic and inviting. As complex and magical as dance can be, I think it’s important for choreographers, directors and dancers to make our craft something everyone can relate to, be moved by, and feel a part of.

Project 7 perform The Land, The Sea & The Creationist

What are your upcoming projects?
Upcoming projects include The Movement Gallery: Midnight in the Garden, commissioned by Flux Projects, our 2011 Winter Showcase on January 23rd at 7 Stages Theater, our second annual summer production, The Land, the Sea and the Creationist in July, as well as several guest performances throughout the season including ugaMiracle, DanceATHENS and the Roswell City Dance Annual Winter Concert.

When choosing dancers for Project 7, what do you look for?
When choosing dancers for Project 7, I look for a pure quality of movement, a humble, professional, respectful attitude and a sense of initiative.  I’ve had group auditions in the past, but have found it to be no more telling about the true character of the dancer than a video submission.  Fortunately, having worked in Atlanta with so many dancers over the past 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to pull dancers by invitation and then conduct interviews to learn more about their goals as an artist and who they are as a person.

Your recent work, The Land, The Sea and the Creationist was whimsical and dream-like. Where did the concept come from?
This concept has been a work in progress for about two years beginning with three solos I choreographed in 2008. First the Land, then the Sea, then the Creationist. What began as a desire to tap into the natural roots of the artistic process grew into the story of a little girl’s dream about a whimsical journey through various phases of the earth’s inspiration and how it equips the creative process. I’ve always been a nature-lover and believe that the source of creation is just as alive within us as it is within the sun, the rain or the soil. In tapping into this truth, I began listening to music while sitting quietly on the beach and taking in the colors around me to come up with costume designs, lighting and choreography that would tie into the three main sections. I sat and watched how bugs moved and how the waves oscillated. I watched the sun go down in its perfect pink form against a misty pier. In rehearsals, I tried to remember the combination of these elements as the creative process evolved and from there, the entire production took on an even greater sense of chemistry than I could ever have imagined.

As you are based in Georgia and well immersed in both studio and company life, tell us about the Atlanta dance scene. What’s ‘hot’ right now in Atlanta?
So many things, it’s hard to pinpoint! I think this city embraces so many styles of music and movement, and is so culturally diverse in terms of what is appreciated, that Atlanta’s wide range of dance, whether it’s Contemporary, African, Modern, Ballet or Jazz, is the very thing that appeals to audiences and motivates artists to grow here. From the abstract to the well-defined, from flesh-toned leotards to elaborate costumes, from the stage to the streets, dance is taking all forms throughout Atlanta and, in turn, enabling dancers, choreographers and dance instructors to share a language that is uniquely their own.  

Project 7 perform 'Why'

What advice would you give to dancers in the ‘South’ who want to make their mark in the industry?
First, understand the goals of the company, agency or organization with which you want to connect.  Make it a point to take initiative in that direction and go above and beyond in your own unique way to let them know you are committed to those goals. Secondly, be authentically you in everything you do. Let your craft come from the purest place within you and everything else will follow. Thirdly, prove yourself through working hard until the job is thoroughly complete. In other words, don’t give up! Not in the middle of a dance. Not before the moment you bow your head at the end of a show. Not even in the midst of rejection. Perseverance builds character.

Where will we see your work next?
Our newest project, The Movement Gallery: Midnight in the Garden, commissioned by Flux Projects, debuted this week on October 1st in Castleberry Hill, downtown Atlanta.  In a black-lit plexiglass greenhouse, dancers transform into mystical glowing creatures as they transition between stillness and movement throughout the misty terrarium.  With electronic music, nature sounds, floral aromas and an intriguing display of movement and design, viewers become a part of the scene by enjoying a multi-sensory experience of contemporary dance in a whole new light!

What are your future dreams/goals?
When the funding is available, I want to take our summer production, The Land, the Sea and the Creationist on tour. I want to build on an environment where truly committed dancers receive the compensation they deserve for the mental and physical commitment they make to their craft and to the work created. I want to reach a 4-year old and an 83-year old simultaneously with one performance.  I want to generate enough profit from one performance to pay off the debt of an Autistic child’s medical bills. I want to hold a master class in Time Square. I want someone to walk away from our summer production and see all the earth’s wonders in a whole new way. And finally, my goal is to keep an open mind and always be motivated rather than satisfied by my accomplishments. I hope anything I’ve achieved thus far simply feeds my desire to learn and become a better student of life.

For more information on Project 7 visit www.project7dance.com

Published by www.danceinforma.com

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