Artsy fartsy

Erik Thur­mond and other At­lanta LGBT artists up city's game

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

Erik Thur­mond has trav­eled all over the world, from New York to Tel Aviv to China, in his 26 years. And he’s crossed the globe for one rea­son—to dance. But in all his trav­els, he’s found that the most or­ganic, most col­lab­o­ra­tive dance scene he’s been a part of is right here in his home­town of At­lanta.

When not work­ing full time for CORE Per­for­mance Com­pany, you’ll find him free­lanc­ing on a va­ri­ety of projects through­out the city, ex­plor­ing the craft and find­ing new ways to ex­press him­self.

“The way that I look at dance is that it’s re­ally a time for me to kind of play make-be­lieve and cre­ate a world with its own rules and ex­plore in that and play in that,” he says.

But be­fore all the nu­mer­ous projects and the world travel, there was a lit­tle boy mak­ing up dances to Spice Girls videos and play­ing dress-up in his back yard in Gwin­nett County. His mom even­tu­ally found a hip-hop class for him to take, his first of­fi­cial dance class.

From there, he piled on more lessons, tak­ing any dance classes he could get his hands on—ballet, jazz, tap, you name it. Soon enough, he went away to a fine arts school in Birm­ing­ham, Alabama for his ju­nior and se­nior years in high school.

“It was one of the most trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ences for me that re­ally set me on the tra­jec­tory that I’m on still,” he says. “The school, de­spite be­ing in Alabama, was a very for­ward-think­ing place. For in­stance, the day that I got there I came out of the closet just be­cause it was so queer that it was a re­ally safe and open place for me to be.”

New York call­ing

The ex­pe­ri­ence gave him the con­fi­dence he needed to go to the next level, to study mu­si­cal theater at the Amer­i­can Mu­si­cal and Dra­matic Academy in New York City. How­ever, the ex­pe­ri­ence left him feel­ing sti­fled and un­sat­is­fied cre­atively.

“There was not a lot of room for self­ex­pres­sion that I could find. It wasn’t about cre­ation, it was more about how to get a role and play a part,” he says.

Af­ter AMDA it was on to The Ai­ley School, the school founded by renowned dancer Alvin Ai­ley, where he got to se­lect his own classes and filled his days with nu­mer­ous forms of dance, like ballet, mod­ern, im­pro­vi­sa­tional, African and more. But he still hadn’t found his place.

“Ai­ley was an amaz­ing place for tech­nique but they weren’t re­ally push­ing any bound­aries as far as pro­gres­sive per­for­mance,” he says.

Af­ter a year and a half at Ai­ley he wanted to get work ex­pe­ri­ence, so he worked at a fash­ion com­pany, then man­aged a bak­ery be­fore get­ting a wake-up call cour­tesy of his mother.

“She was like, ‘ Okay it’s cool that you can pay your own rent in the East Vil­lage, but what are you do­ing? You’re not danc­ing, you’re not do­ing any of th­ese things that you love while you’re up there.’ It was re­ally that con­ver­sa­tion that pulled me back to dance again,” Thur­mond says.

‘I wouldn’t want to be any­where else right now’

He started tak­ing classes at a lo­cal stu­dio, where he learned a dance tech­nique called gaga, and that was the key to open­ing up the world to him.

He went to a sum­mer pro­gram with a dance com­pany in Is­rael, then on to China and bounced around Europe be­fore a nine-month stay back in Tel Aviv to study the tech­nique more in­tensely. That stay in­cluded a stint as a go-go boy.

“It wasn’t even like go-go boy in the sexy sense but they would dress me in th­ese crazy things and put me on some speaker or plat­form and I would dance and they would pass me drinks,” he says, laugh­ing. “It was a dif­fer­ent kind of dance train­ing.”

Three years ago, with his visa and money run­ning out, Thur­mond re­turned to Gwin­nett to live in his par­ents’ house and fig­ure out his next move. He quickly got swept up in the At­lanta dance com­mu­nity.

“There’s some re­ally cool things hap­pen­ing here for dance, and what’s specif­i­cally valu­able for me is that if it’s not hap­pen­ing, I can make it hap­pen. I can find a space and an au­di­ence to en­gage with,” he says. “I think peo­ple in At­lanta are ex­cited about per­for­mances in strange places and are will­ing to be there for that, so that’s re­ally how I’ve been able to do what I do.”

Last year he was named a Dash­board CoOp Artist, and he’s cur­rently on tour in France with CORE, af­ter which he’ll travel around Europe with his boyfriend be­fore mak­ing his way home to At­lanta some­time in June.

“I wouldn’t want to be any­where else right now. I’m ex­cited to go trav­el­ing right now and see­ing things but I hope the next step is tak­ing th­ese things I’ve found here and made here else­where and shar­ing them else­where. But as far as a place to be mak­ing things, I’m in a re­ally good spot right now in At­lanta,” he says.

(Cour­tesy pho­tos)

Dancer and chore­og­ra­pher Erik Thur­mond has been all over the world, but is most ex­cited about At­lanta’s dance scene.

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