After a shakeup at Atlanta Ballet this past April, several leading dancers chose not to renew their contracts. Led by John McFall for more than 20 years, the company's direction and repertoire had favored contemporary ballet. When McFall retired in 2016, former San Francisco Ballet principal Gennadi Nedvigin took over as artistic director with a more traditional approach.
While it is not unusual for dancers to be let go or move on after a change at the top, many were surprised when Tara Lee, Christian Clark, Rachel Van Buskirk and Heath Gill revealed where they were going. Along with veteran AB dancer John Welker, a runner-up in the company's search for a new artistic director, these tenured dancers had planned quietly to form their own company: Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre. "We were all at a point in our careers where we were asking 'What do we want?' " says Welker, who had directed AB's summer company Wabi Sabi. "And we were aware that time in this career is short. This city has an energy here. I think Atlanta is ready for another dance company to thrive."
Leveraging established relationships with donors and other Atlanta arts organizations, the five dancers hit the ground running. With a $50,000 donation, homes at both Westside Cultural Arts Center and the Serenbe Institute, and a calendar that includes engagements through 2018, they plan to go far.
Gill and Lee will be choreographing on the troupe, which aims for a more collaborative and contemporary approach. The company makes its evening-length debut October 12–15 at Westside Cultural Arts Center, followed by outdoor performances at Serenbe in November. For now, it will consist of these five members, dancing their own work, as they build towards the goal of a 52-week contract, with health care and benefits.