Finding a Home for Rita: In Conversation with Amy Hall Garner

From Huntsville, Alabama, Amy Hall Garner honed her dancing chops at New York City’s famed Julliard School. She believed she would be a dancer, not a dancemaker. It wasn’t until she mustered the courage to present a work she created for herself that the fire to create was ignited. Those flames have carried her far, and today Amy is an in-demand choreographer. From Beyonce to BalletX, Amy is carving out an impressive career as she develops her own choreographic signature. Something she admits she is still very much in the process of discovering.

As part of MCB’s 22/23 Season, Amy saw two works premiered by the company. The first, Rita Finds Home, is intended for young audiences and families and is a co-production with Joffrey Ballet. (Amy is one of the first recipients of Joffrey’s Winning Works, then titled Choreography of Color Award.) The second, Resplendent Fantasy was a newly commissioned world that will debuted in Program 2: Modern Masters from Feb 10.

Rita Finds Home was Amy’s second work for MCB after 2021’s digital release of ViVa; an uplifting ballet meets modern dance collaboration with Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Here she chatted about her new work and how she’s forging her own path as a choreographer.

Tell us about Rita Finds Home and how the collaboration came to be:

Rita Finds Home is a coming-of-age story about a young islander displaced by a 100-year storm who moves to the big city while her father stays behind. Rita loves to draw, enters a drawing competition, and wins!

It is a collaboration that began in 2019 with author Karla Estela Rivera, illustrator Elisa Chavarri, and me. Karla will also narrate the ballet in English and Spanish. Rita Finds Home premiered at Navy Pier in Chicago on July 9 – 10, 2022 by the Joffrey Ballet and was performed by MCB School Pre Professional students at various theaters in South Florida from February 4 to March 12, 2023.

What will the audience experience?

I wanted Rita to be a girl of color and for the work to be filled with island sounds, for the piece to have lots of color with a kind of homegrown feel. Rita Finds Home is for students and young people to push their imaginations forward. They will have to use their brains and their creativity.

Have you faced challenges as a Black female choreographer? Have you found it difficult to find your (choreographic) home?

I notice a difference when people look at me, but I come into the room the same way with everything I do. I’m happy that there is an awakening, and I’m stepping into it. But I hope it’s not a fad. It’s time. It’s been time. I strive for excellence no matter what.

What can we do to make ballet more inclusive?

Look beyond the Rolodex. Take a chance on different choreographers. Go out and see and talk to other people in the dance community. Hold space for them. There seems to be a pedigree in ballet circles. I think artistic directors should look beyond that and work to cultivate them. Choreographers are not made overnight.

People are doing excellent work and not getting the recognition, for example, Darrell Grand Moultrie (whom Amy was an assistant for early in her career).

What would you say to a budding choreographer?

Make dance where you can, when you can, and don’t stop. Make the dancers look glorious but still have your voice in there. Choreography is a marriage between the music, the dancer, and the dancemaker. Find how you can put your voice on them… find your signature.

Anything else we should know?

I am a mom to a six-year-old and this brings a different level of awareness to me and my work. It’s invigorating to go into the studio, work, and then be able to leave it alone. It’s not all about me or the work; it’s about someone else. Being a mom influences everything around me, and it’s not easy to find that balance. But it is nice to have the option to do so.

About that signature. Do you have one?

Not yet. It could take me one hundred works (or years) to have one. It’s all about the journey to find it.

Rita Finds Home is a 45-minute free family-friendly production. Click on the link below for tickets and more information.


Rita Finds Home

Oct 1 – Nov 3, 2023
Various Locations

Free with Registration