George Staib

George Staib: ‘My Biggest Dream Is to Perform in Armenia!’

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YEREVAN / ATLANTA, Georgia – Born in Tehran, Iran, George Staib is of Armenian descent and has been living in the United States since the age of 10. He began his dance training at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Penn., in conjunction with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, then went on to earn an MFA in dance and choreography from Temple University.

Company credits include: Ann Vachon/Dance Conduit, Coriolis Dance Company, Gathering Wild Dance Company, and Paula Kellinger and Dancers. In addition, the fall of 2006 provided Staib the opportunity to perform with the José Limón Dance Company as a guest artist in their re-creation of Missa Brevis. In 2001 Staib joined the dance faculty at Emory University where he teaches contemporary and ballet techniques, choreography, and a seminar created to examine the impetus and practice of consuming and making art.

Since relocating to Atlanta, Staib’s work and teaching have been commissioned across the United States resulting in his recognition by Dance Teacher Magazine in 2014 as one of the top five dance educators in the country. As added service to the field, Staib is a contributing writer and critic for ArtsATL Staib is a two-time recipient of Emory’s prestigious Winship Award, taking him to Tel Aviv in 2011 to study Gaga, release technique with Iris Enez, and Jerusalem to conduct choreographic workshops. In 2016, Staib and the company were invited to Stockholm to perform and teach at Södra Latins and Ballet Akadamien, and subsequently created new work for Saraceno Dance. In addition, staibdance curated and produced the first-ever Atlanta Multicultural Dance Festival, created a summer intensive in Sorrento, Italy, now in its 11th year and hosted a 10-part podcast series titled Secret Architecture: the process of process, that features culturally based artists from across the country, now in its second season. Staib’s most recent accomplishments include promotion to the rank of Professor of Practice at Emory University, engagement as an educator with Immerse ATL, recognition by the Atlanta Regional Commission as an Arts Leader of Metro Atlanta, and in the summer of 2022, Staib serves as a faculty member and choreographer for the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC.

George, how is it that you are a dancer and yet your BA is in political science?

I believe it is my Armenian upbringing that led me to the study of political science. As I was growing up in Tehran, my family encouraged me to be a doctor or a lawyer. So in college, I changed my major many times, and then decided to pursue political science. At the same time, I began dancing and slowly moved away from preparing myself for a law degree. I did not start my formal dance training until the age of 20, and once I started, I knew I wanted it to be my career.

Dancers choreographed by George Staib

Years ago you performed with the José Limón Dance Company as a guest artist.  What did that mean to you?

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In my graduate school experience, I studied Limon technique every day, in addition I was in another company that was directed by one of Limon’s first dancers, Ann Vachon. Limon became my life. And still to this day, the principles of alignment, breath, movement patterns, investigation and physicality remain very much alive in me. I feel loyal to the gifts of understanding I gained from his technique. And as a matter of fact, am preparing a new, short piece that is in some way a tribute to what I learned in that practice.

George, few choreographers also write – you are writer and critic for ArtsATL, Atlanta’s only source for arts news and critical evaluation. They say writing for art is a thankless task – is it so?

I would say it is thankless. Sadly. More and more in the US, arts writing, especially for dance, becomes less valuable for general audiences. It appears that the people most interested in dance writing and criticism are the people who are directly part of the writing, the people on stage, the choreographers. For me, I LOVE talking about, writing about and thinking about choreography. Sharing the experience of a dance performance, digging in to the work and hearing from others will always be the reward for me.

Do art professionals care about criticism – do you have any feedback?

Many people will say of art criticism: “That is one person’s opinion” — which is good and a little troubling, I think. Our world is very competitive and many people want good feedback and consistent support. As do I. At the same time, we can be very much connected to what other people think and this is the difficult issue. We want honesty, kindness and constructive criticism. Sometimes these things do not go hand in hand.

You worked also outside of the US – what successes you have had in abroad?

The success is based on the joy of coming together with amazing artists from many backgrounds and cultures — bringing them all into the same room to share and explore. I have had the privilege of studying in Tel Aviv, teaching and creating in Stockholm and also directing a program in Italy.

What about working in Armenia?

This question brings tears to my eyes because this is my biggest dream. There is the HyeFest festival which has been something I have desired for many, many years. I know of other contemporary companies that have been there and for me, it would be a blessing. The work we do in staibdance is all focused on the Armenian experience and to share this in my homeland with my people would be a gift. I could die a very happy man if this became an opportunity. I think about how proud my family would be.

Staib does not sound like an Armenian name.

Haha, yes. It is a German name, my father is of German descent and he met my mother in Tehran. My Armenian family name is Hovanessian and for a long time I thought about changing my name or using Hovanessian in the name of my company – but I could not find a way to make it work properly. Maybe one day?

What do you remember from Tehran and where are your ancestors from?

I remember so much from living there. All of my ancestors were there, I went to school there, I spoke Armenian, Farsi and remember feeling so connected to the land and the people. It will always be home for me – always. More specifically, my grandmother was born in India because her family was there on business when she was born. My grandfather was born in Armenia, my mother and her sisters were all born in Isfahan. I love the incredible backgrounds of my family and am so proud of my heritage. Very proud.

Many choreographers of Armenian descent in some period of their career pay tribute to their roots. Have you already done so or it is expected?

The work of my company, especially for the last 12 years, has all been a tribute to my background, my people, my time in Tehran. In addition, we look at the intersection of my experiences in Iran and how they relate to the culture in the US. My most recent works have been focused on the Nowruz celebration, the Gregorian process of mourning the passing of a loved one the revolution in Iran and our migration to the US.

We are beginning our largest work to date and it is called “Ararat.” This piece is a tribute to the strength of the Armenian people, especially after scattering across the world following the genocide. It is a celebration of how our culture remains strong and beautiful especially after something so tragic.

All of my work involves music, text and physical ideas that belong to us. My work is also a way to put our traditions and ideas into contemporary forms and contemporary movements, which I think is rare for people like us from our part of the world. “Ararat” speaks to our triumph and our resilience. My goal is to perform this piece in Yerevan – and I will do anything to make it happen.

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