How this husband-wife duo’s contemporary dance troupe vagabondance became the Art Council’s artist-in-residence and found ‘home’ in Baton Rouge

Their movements tell stories about life in unexpected ways.

The contemporary dance troupe, vagabondance, will perform an original work next Friday and Saturday at the Carey Saurage Community Arts Center called Unpaved: Impressions of a Home Lost. The one-hour show is performed by vagabondance founders, husband-wife team Scarlett Wynne and Erik Sampson, who themed the performance around the concept of searching for physical and emotional belonging. The pieces, which were choreographed in Baton Rouge over the last few months, explore what “home” means, Wynne says.

“It’s revolving around the idea of displacement and the loss of home,” say Wynne, the company’s artistic director. “Especially as more people leave home by choice or through circumstances beyond their control.”

The two shows seat just 25 spectators each and will take place in the Community Arts Center’s black box performance space, where Wynne and Sampson’s vagabondance has been an artist-in-residence since March. The duo moved to Baton Rouge from Santa Fe, where they were both part of the New Mexico Dance Project. Sampson was also running a business providing brand management consulting to nonprofit clients around the country, including Baton Rouge.

But good dance studio space had become difficult to find in Santa Fe, they say, especially during and after COVID-19. Sampson’s nonprofit clients in Baton Rouge connected him with the Arts Council and its executive director Renee Chatelain in early 2021. Chatelain shared the Arts Council’s vision to turn the Triangle Building into the Carey Saurage Community Arts Center, which would include space for working artists as well as a versatile black box performance space well-equipped for dancers. The building was completed last fall.

Finding that kind of space for dancers is rare, Sampson says.

“You can’t just walk into any community space and start moving things around for a show,” he says. “It just doesn’t work for dance. And even communities who build a new space they think works for dance often miss the mark.”

Conversely, the Carey Saurage Community Arts Center’s black box space features mirrors, barres, a sound system and a marley floor, which is high quality roll-out vinyl flooring that absorbs shock. The appeal of the space, and the chance to create works and classes of their own, enticed the couple to relocate to Baton Rouge. Sampson still works as a nonprofit management consultant. He and Wynne together are shaping the direction of vagabondance, a new concept they launched when they became artists-in-residence at the Community Arts Center.

Wynne and Sampson experimenting with new movements. Photo credit: Manning Lloyd

Along with regular performances like Unpaved, vagabondance provides different dance classes at reasonable rates, including one called “Movement for All” that is open to non-dancers of any physical level.

“It’s very much about listening to the body and getting connected with no judgment or stress involved,” Wynne says.

Another class called “Contemporary Forms” helps experienced dancers grow their contemporary dance techniques.

Community dance classes taught by Community Arts Center Artist in Residence, vagabondance. Photo credit: Caleb Bourque

Wynne and Sampson spent many years as professional dancers and worked with numerous companies across the country. Wynne’s parents were both professional dancers, she says, which meant a childhood of both dance instruction and travel. She joined the Georgia Ballet as a young adult and after working for a few years in classical ballet, she says she was drawn to exploring contemporary movement. The couple met while performing professionally in Texas.

Wynne and Sampson say landing in Baton Rouge is just another part of their journey.

“This idea of being sort of a vagabond, in a positive sense,” Sampson says, “is this notion of getting to experience a lot of different impressions that speak to not only who you are, but maybe who you could be as well.”

Performances of Unpaved: Impressions of a Home Lost take place Thursday, November 17 and Friday, November 18 at 6:00 pm, with doors opening at 5:30 pm. For more tickets and information, visit vagabonance.org.