Just over 10 years ago, Refuge Dance Company Founder Katherine Gant was new to the dance scene in Atlanta, Georgia. Everywhere she went, she met dancers like herself who were unable to find an artistic home that fit their needs. Many local dancers were looking for a place to be both nurtured as an artist and supported in their other commitments to work and family. Refuge was founded out of this need — “a need for a safe place for dancers to come, be inspired, grow as artists, and embrace who they are meant to be.” In 2006, Gant began bringing dancers together regularly to take class, try out ideas and “work through the joys and struggles of life together.” Just a year later, Refuge had blossomed into a small company known for creating thought-provoking works with a message of love and grace. Following a brief hiatus, Refuge recently returned to the stage with the premiere of Gant’s newest work, Silver Boxes, which she choreographed specifically to honor the stories of sex trafficking victims.
Silver Boxes was created for the “To Live and Dream Again” benefit concert in support of Wellspring Living, an Atlanta-based non-profit which works to help domestic sex trafficking victims develop the courage to move forward. Refuge shared the program with local spoken word artists and vocalists in an effort to raise awareness and funds for Wellspring. Gant describes the project as “near to her heart” and a “powerful glimpse into the darkness of sex trafficking.” The work features a very sensitive performance by Gant’s new Assistant Artistic Director Rebecca Ahmadi, whom Gant credits as an important artistic collaborator since the reboot of the company.
“It is so important to have someone to bounce ideas off of, someone who can offer a different perspective in the studio, and Rebecca has been such a gift in that regard,” says Gant. From its inception, Refuge has been committed to presenting innovative works that are accessible to folks from diverse walks of life, so Gant welcomed the invitation lend Refuge’s talent to such an important cause.
As Refuge’s resident choreographer, Gant seeks to craft work for the company that is honest, thoughtful and appeals to a wide audience. She is committed to making dances that are “relevant to everyday people, not just dancers,” and she keeps her five children — ages one to 18 — in mind when she is engaged in the creative process. Gant says, “I think my kids are proud that their mommy makes work that they can enjoy.”
Although Refuge concerts aim to be family-friendly, Gant doesn’t tailor Refuge’s repertory to any specific demographic. Instead, she sets out to make work that is expansive and open-ended enough that audience members can enter into different layers of meaning in the work through the lens of their own life experience. Above all, she believes that everything Refuge puts on stage should speak a message of love, grace, healing and compassion into the world. In the midst of today’s contentious political climate, Refuge’s mission to be a safe, encouraging place for both growing artists and diverse audiences seems more resonant than ever.
This summer, Refuge will be reviving its Contemporary 3 program, which features works of 20 minutes or more by three different choreographers. Gant started the initiative in order to give emerging choreographers access to the dancers, rehearsal space and performance venue they need to develop their craft. Many showcase opportunities for choreographers limit works to five to 10 minutes, but Refuge’s Contemporary 3 program is designed to allow choreographers to delve deeper and create longer, more conceptually sophisticated work. Gant also sees the program as a chance for her to give back and nurture other choreographers who may not have the resources to manage their own company or self-produce their work. In addition, the rehearsals and culminating performance take place during the summer months when local university program dancers are out of school and are in need of opportunities to keep dancing over the summer. True to Refuge’s mission to bring dancers in, “build them up and send them out,” the Contemporary 3 program invites new artists into the Refuge family with the goal of equipping them to reach the next level in their development as dancers and dancemakers.
After putting Refuge on pause for a couple years, Gant is thrilled to be back in the studio, making new work and mentoring a fresh crop of talented, local dancers, but she is also grateful for the gift of that time away from the pressures of production deadlines. She says, “Taking some time to step away and clear my head was so valuable; it allowed me space to reimagine what Refuge could be.”
While the Atlanta dance scene has exploded with small companies in recent years, Refuge’s continued commitment to training and mentoring the next generation as leaders of the dance world sets it apart from the many pick-up companies that are purely project-focused. When asked to give aspiring choreographers a bit of advice, Gant says, “Don’t be afraid if you don’t have the answer. Take the leap of faith. If you are passionate about making dances, then you have the passion to find the answers and people to help you.”
For dance artists in the Atlanta area, following their passion and searching for the support they need to grow might just lead them to Refuge, where Gant is happy to welcome them in.
For more information on Refuge Dance Company, visit www.refugedance.org. Atlanta area dancers interested in performing in the Contemporary 3 program are invited to contact Refuge at firstname.lastname@example.org for audition information. The performances will be on August 26 and 27, The Art Place in Marietta, Georgia.
By Angella Foster of Dance Informa.