ELEVATE 2021 strives to reconnect audiences with public art throughout the city

“Tokoliana” is the new dance performance choreographed by Indya Childs.


Atlanta’s annual public arts festival ELEVATE is well underway, with a full calendar of October events in celebration of its theme, “Reopen, Reconnect, Reignite, Revival.” Among these is a collaboration between ELEVATE and France-Atlanta called “A Dance, Reunited.” The multimedia program takes place on Oct. 17th at the Atlanta Contemporary and explores the global art community’s struggle and resurgence through COVID-19. The evening will feature a film screening, a discussion panel, and a performance of a new dance work by Indya Childs called “Tokoliana.” Childs joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes along with Charmaine Minniefield, visual artist and Curator of ELEVATE 2021, to talk about “A Dance, Reunited,” and the personal and global story of resilience Childs’ piece tells.

Minniefield gave some context on the collaboration between French and Atlanta creators, a tradition begun by the French Consulate General of Atlanta and Georgia Tech. “The City of Atlanta has a long-standing partnership with France-Atlanta, and each year we’ve presented a work in collaboration with them,” said Minniefield. “This year, the project is a film that comes out of the dance experience out of West Africa, from the continent. And our filmmaker that is a part of the project will be with us, via broadcast from overseas.”

She added, “This project feels really right for ELEVATE as well, because it comes from the experience of dancers during quarantine, during the pandemic. And a lot of our work does that, the City of Atlanta is supporting. It highlights… ‘What was the result of our time within?’”

Stuck in the position of creating dance works mostly alone and at home through the last year, dancer and choreographer Childs shared her breakthrough moment that led to “Tokoliana.” “There wasn’t anywhere to go, because studios were closing; theaters were closed. So I was trapped in my mind, but I found a healthy way to do that through the connection of the music and finding this rhythm within myself,” said Childs.

“I wanted to push the effort and stamina to the body’s limits,” she continued. “I would find myself exhausted after rehearsing with myself, using the music, and I enjoy that level of release because when I would get so tired from the movement, I became submissive to whatever the music was calling for, my body was calling for, and I would feel like I was in this trance.”

The resulting work features six female dancers that Childs calls “spiritual engines.” She said, “I ask for them to connect with the hope in their ancestral connection, to continue to strive each day, and to let the violence that has happened to Black and brown bodies wash over them and motivate them more so, to continue their efforts to thrive or survive.”

The music Childs and her dancers move to come from the Congolese music group KOKOKO!, from whose song “Tokoliana” the dance piece gets its name. “It means, ‘We are devouring each other,’ in Lingala,” said Childs. “The way the music group works, they discuss many of the social issues that are happening within the country, but they use upbeat and experimental sounds and music to discuss these topics. So I took the lead from them by using high-energy music, but sprinkled with many of the social issues that are happening here in America.”

Minniefield was effusive about the special resonance she felt with this year’s theme of reconnection and revival, having herself been through a tough quarantine period that unexpectedly kept her thousands of miles away from the Atlanta community.

“I’m finally returned from my trip to the Gambia…. Since we’ve been back in May, it’s been a reunion,” said Minniefield. “Some of the descriptions that Indya is sharing right now, it’s exactly the same experience that I had while I was in the Gambia. We were all just emotionally spent, but in a way that was activated within us to want to affect change within our environment and our community.”

“Now, we are global,” she added. “Our sphere of influence is global, and our reach – because in many cases we’re virtual. But also, now we’re very physical because we’re asserting and affirming life by coming back out into public spaces. So for me, yes it does, it feels like a revival.”

Minniefield shared other highlights to look forward to, including visual artists on display at Underground Atlanta, film screenings at the Atlanta Contemporary, a mural festival at the Beacon District in Grant Park, and lots more. The festival takes place through Oct. 31, and a full schedule of events is available at www.elevateatlart.com.