NEWNAN, Ga. — Dancer Shawn Evans was headed for a master of fine arts program in Berlin when COVID-19 put an abrupt stop to his plans.
Over the next few weeks, he said he found himself increasingly bitter, without a creative outlet, and engaging negatively online.
“I was spiraling down,” Evans said. “It was ‘the news, the news, the news,’ and my social media feed during that time was awful. I became one of those trolls, very combative with everyone.”
He said he made a conscious decision to snap out of it and redirect his energy into something positive – getting back in touch with his Polynesian roots. He began attending Zoom classes taught by instructors from all over the world, including traditional Hawaiian hula classes.
Evans is one of several dancers featured in the Southern Arc Dance-sponsored video “Everyday,” created to convey the emotional journeys of artists as they navigate a pandemic-stricken world in which they are largely isolated, cut off from their normal artistic supports.
In the video – filmed with each dancer in a different location around Newnan – Evans performs a “cleansing” Polynesian dance in traditional costume.
“I spent so much time during the summer connecting with the elements,” he said. “It’s about how you connect with the land you’re occupying, the land you’re from. It’s about everything that’s come before me and how I can present that in another mode moving forward. You can look back and find more strength and grounding, and sharing my journey with that was, I felt like, the most meaningful part.”
The project was envisioned by Southern Arc Dance Artistic Director Paulo Manso de Sousa in appreciation to the local community for its ongoing support of the arts, after an event featuring Southern Arc dancers and celebrated Georgia soprano Indra Thomas was canceled last spring.
“It is a gift for our community, in response to everything that’s been happening,” Manso de Sousa said.
In addition to Evans, the video features dancers Alexis Arria, Derrick Smith, Olivia White and Chance Rankin in dances ranging from classical ballet and acrobatics to contemporary and hip hop, all choreographed to the same song.
“Each dancer worked on their own movement and created their own dance in response to everything that’s been happening – the grief, the uncertainty, the isolation,” Manso de Sousa said.
Coweta County artist Angelo Robinson filmed the video, and his teenage son, “Mr. T.Y.” (Angelo Robinson II, a junior at East Coweta High School), composed the title music. Robinson’s brother Jerald, a middle school teacher, and his nephew, Jett, also are featured dancers in the video.
Robinson said the purpose of the project was to create connectivity, and “Everyday” – the title of both the song and the video – is particularly meaningful.
“Every day that was going on before (the pandemic) is still going on,” Robinson said. “The video has black, white and other races, male and female, different ages, all dancing to the same song but doing their own thing. There’s a commonality between all of us, a thread that connects us despite our differences.”
A celebrated visual artist, Robinson often creates multimedia pieces on oversized canvases.
“I see my art in the video,” he said. “I’m creating a canvas, but it’s a moving canvas, a live canvas.”
His work often incorporates cultural and historical elements, another aspect reflected in “Everyday.”
“One of my main goals in everything I do is to bring different people together,” Robinson said. “We do have differences, and we should celebrate and enjoy them. In the midst of all of that, there are things we need to work on. But that doesn’t mean we can’t move forward.”