Monica Hogan Thysell is back in town. After eight years leading a contemporary dance company in New York, the Atlanta native and her husband moved back in late 2019, leaving her ensemble of New York dancers behind. Or most of them. Her sister Emily, who danced with the company in New York, moved back too.
Thysell’s dance ambitions were on hold during the pandemic but in the fall of 2021 she began auditioning dancers and building a company here.
At the Emory Performing Arts Studio on Saturday and Sunday, Monica Hogan Danceworks will present its first full evening concert in Atlanta. The program includes a selection of short works and a reconstruction of Resilient Paradise, a 40-minute work that her New York company first performed in May 2019, almost a year before COVID-19 hit.
Thysell says she created Resilient Paradise initially to reflect on “the resiliency of the human condition and our headstrong ability – in spite of times of darkness – to challenge melancholy” and how life’s simple pleasures can bring happiness.
Now, three years later, the work has gained far greater relevance, she says. “In light of all the challenges from 2020 to now, it feels like every dancer has really lived this experience on a deep level.”
Thysell says she has found an “amazing” group of dancers in Atlanta and, surprisingly, experiences a higher level of community and professionalism than in New York. “Maybe it’s because the dancers in New York were pulled in so many directions. Here they come into the studio with a great sense of purpose. They practice together between rehearsals. They show up early, they warm up and are ready to rehearse at the appointed time.”
She is still in touch with her New York dancers, however, and invited them to join the Atlanta company for this performance. Three of them said yes.
The move to Atlanta has also affected her creativity. “It might sound like a cliché,” she says, “but compared with New York there is such a visceral sense of expansiveness here. More openness, more connection to nature, more ground to cover. Both consciously and subconsciously, I think this has had an impact on my creative process. The easier access to the outdoors opens up a different headspace.”
Another difference is the size of Atlanta’s dance community. it’s small enough, Thysell says, that it’s possible to have an impact, something she grappled with in New York’s crowded dance scene. Atlanta audiences have already seen her work in Dance Canvas in March and in the Modern Atlanta Festival (MAD) in June. At the end of October she will be one of the choreographers featured in the Fall for Fall Dance festival.
Thysell says she feels compelled to choreograph, but wants to bring in other dance makers to give her dancers and Atlanta audiences an opportunity to experience different styles and points of view. It’s a two or three-year plan, she says. For now, she is focusing on the upcoming concert and the joy of being back home.
Gillian Anne Renault has been an ArtsATL contributor since 2012 and was named Senior Editor for Art+Design and Dance in 2021. She has covered dance for the Los Angeles Daily News, Herald Examiner and Ballet News, and on radio stations such as KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, California. In the 1980s, she was awarded an NEA Fellowship to attend American Dance Festival’s Dance Criticism program.