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Atlanta Ballet’s Big Secret

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Tuesday morning I ran from my gig teaching the kiddies, moved like a snail through notorious Atlanta traffic, to get to Georgia Public Broadcasting for the unveiling of Atlanta Ballet’s newest secret. They have commissioned some big wig, international choreographer to do a full-length work on the company. I heard about it a couple of days prior to the event and I started racking through my cobwebby memory Rolodex for who it might be.

Was it an up-and-comer? Some international Ballet Choreographer from Brussels or the Netherlands? Could it be some famous protégé of an oldie but goody cornerstone in the world of dance? I walked into the studio and saw some very revealing clues. It took my breath away. Could it be? No… surely not… my eyes are deceiving me.

Then, John McFall, the Artistic Director of the Atlanta Ballet, came out in his stylish jacket and gold tennis shoes to confirm what I already knew was true. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be in the same room with Twyla Tharp that day.

Twyla Tharp is a cornerstone! She is a history maker; in fact I studied her in college. She is the kind of woman, according to the anecdote she shared on Tuesday, who writes to the National Endowment for the Arts and says, “…I make dances not applications, please send money.” And they do. She has firsthand changed the face of Classic Modern dance. Tharp and some of her contemporaries were the postmodern dance movement. They took the vocabulary out of choreography, took dance out of the theater and became cerebral about movement. I have been among the masses auditioning for her. I have felt an entire room hold its breath in her presence. I know the visceral tangibility that fills the air when she walks in a room. For a dancer, it’s like being in the vicinity of Leonardo Davinci. She is an artist, an inventor, a genius. Twyla Tharp has made history, she is an essential figure in the world of dance and she is still moving us forward into the future. Here. Now. In Atlanta will premiere, with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Twyla Tharp’s newest full-length ballet. Lucky us, Atlanta, this is a big deal. Tharp is one of the world’s greatest living choreographers, with an incredible body of work of over 135 dance pieces that span and mix genres and generations.

Her credits include ballets and modern concert work, with most of the giant dance companies in the world from New York City Ballet to The Paris Opera Ballet, from The Martha Graham Dance Company to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Let us not forget Baryshnikov by Tharp. As if that weren’t an extraordinary feat in a choreographer’s career already, she has productions on Broadway and Vegas, television, books, and movies like Hair and Ragtime. Tharp is the recipient of many awards and grants, including a Tony Award, two Emmys, 19 honorary doctorates, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts and a 2008 Kennedy Center Honor. She truly is a force to be reckoned with, and now at 70, continues to be a trailblazer and movement inventor. The ballet is still in its early stages and Twyla was shy about divulging much information. This is what we do know. This ballet will be a full-evening work. She has been thinking about making this piece for about 20 years. It is an adaptation of a classic children’s story by George McDonald, she won’t tell which one, to a score of the Romantic composer Franz Schubert. Using the classical score, she says, “We are being pulled back to what we have been moving against.” Tharp is very clear that she wants to honor the music. There was an orchestra member in the audience and he expressed how excited they were to be working with her on this project. Among the sketchy details, Tharp did say that the story was written over 200 years ago but that there are elements that are timeless and relevant. The narrative will be a coming of age story with a female central character. This Ballet is expected to be classical in the sense that there will be a female ensemble on pointe. There will also be child performers and Tharp, now a grandmother, thinks they will have a bigger and bigger voice in the movement invention process. She loves working with the children because, “they are so brave, they don’t know any better.” On a visceral and pre-linguistic level, each character will have a goal and relevant purpose

. As far as this ballet’s overall aesthetic, we don’t know what to expect. Will it look more like a classical ballet or an avant-garde performance piece? I’ll tell you what, Atlanta, this little dancer can’t wait to find out. Ok, Atlanta Ballet, you’ve gotten Twyla Tharp and now you’ve got me. I was happy to learn that Georgia Public Broadcasting will be documenting the making of this ballet. This made me all warm and fuzzy inside. I love projects that get into the guts of a process and educate the audience. I, for one, am happy to be part of the process by sitting in your audiences, TV and theater, and writing about my experiences.

Atlanta Ballet is entertaining us with much more than the Tharp experience this year. There is a whole ballet season to experience. I’ll be checking out the remaining 2 events of this current season and next season in its entirety. I urge the greater Atlanta area, the country, the world to do the same. Here is a lineup of other events, performances and great choreographers to enjoy.

So grab some tickets and join me for The Atlanta Ballet’s wonderful 2011-2012 season.

FUSION: LAMBARENA AND THE RITE OF SPRING Featuring Lambarena by Val Caniparoli World Premiere of The Rite of Spring by Christopher Hampson Petal by Helen Pickett Mar 25–27, 2011 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

IGNITION: NEW CHOREOGRAPHIC VOICES An evening of world premieres by young choreographers May 13–15, 2011 The Alliance Stage at the Woodruff Arts Center THE FOUR SEASONS by James Kudelka EDEN/EDEN by Wayne McGregor October 21-23, 2011 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

BELK PRESENTS ATLANTA BALLET’S NUTCRACKER December 8-24, 2011 at The Fabulous Fox Theatre

ATLANTA BALLET PRESENTS: CANADA’S ROYAL WINNIPEG BALLET’S WONDERLAND January 12-14, 2012 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

THE TWYLA THARP PROJECT: A WORLD PREMIERE A Full-Evening Ballet by Twyla Tharp Co-Production with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet Live with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra February 10-19, 2012 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

SNOW WHITE, a One-Hour Family Performance February 18, 2012 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre RUSH by Christopher Wheeldon

FIRST FLASH by Jorma Elo IF A ROSE FALLS by Julia Adam March 23-25, 2012 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

IGNITION: NEW CHOREOGRAPHIC VOICES May 18-10, 2012 on The Alliance Stage at The Woodruff Arts Center

GET TICKETS: 800-982-2787 For groups call: 404-873-5811 (ext. 207)

 

 

Jennifer McLester is our featured “Dancer with an Attitude”.

Keep reading The Backstage Beat to keep up with all the news from the dancing world.

Dancer With An Attitude

The Movement In Stillness – “First Breath” by Travis Magee

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“First Breath”, a new exhibition of photography by Travis Magee

The Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Beginning 1.31.15

There are these moments among skilled choreography and seasoned performances where you lose yourself. If you happen to be experiencing this, you will most probably hear a gasp or a groan. There is no language adequate to tell the tale later because they affect you in a primal, visceral way. These moments transcend language and are too intimate to describe. To those of you who don’t frequent the many exquisite dance events happening around the world today… this is the reason to see dance live! The bitter sweet dichotomy can perpetuate a frustration, that the experiences can’t REALLY be translated to anyone who wasn’t at the dance performances, sharing the adventure. These feelings lead to the question, “How do we bottle this?”

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Dancer With An Attitude

Dearly Departures: “A Long Way… A Longer Distance Call”

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photo : Chris Carder
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The Lucky Penny has become a cornerstone of Atlanta’s cutting edge dance and technology. Dearly Departures: A new dance by Blake Beckham and her impeccable motley crew of technicians and performers, at Georgia Tech’s DramaTech Theater, have created yet another night of artistic excellence

The little black box theatre, more of a trapezoidal space is reminiscent of the old train stations lined with a long illuminated bench Stage Left, an “Old Skool” telephone booth Stage Right and a Split Flap display board hanging above. The experience begins with a Rolodex scrolling sound as the Split Flap illustrates very slow, movie style, credits. This sets a mellow tone, allowing the audience to hunker down in our seats and get comfortable. The lights dim then flicker off, in a “cool” and unusual manner, foreshadowing the unexpected and poetic experience to come.

The clickety clack of the display is overtaken by ambient music and lights go up on dancer Alisa Mitten. She smoothly makes her way around with long relaxed movements, allowing her fingertips to initiate her locomotion. As we watch, the Split Flap is feeding us contemplative ideas to ponder as the action unfolds.

“Away… Way back… Go… Go… Go back.” And a repeated mantra of “Begin again” & “Begin & End.”

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Dance

T. Lang: A Woman Searching

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The raw space at the Goat Farm is set up with four see through scrims hanging from the ceiling, situated in a square, to separate the performers from the audience.  Seats are arranged in the round, meaning all the way “a round” where the action was about to take place.  The first question of the evening is to figure out which side of the room we want to experience this evening from.  Obviously, there is no right or wrong… just questions.

On June 7th, I found myself asking a lot of questions at the World premiere of T. Lang Dance Company’s  performance of Post Up.  The cast of nine extraordinary women were uniformly exposed in white bras and cherry red leggings.   The uniformity brought to mind a complex woman or many women in a similar situation, perhaps battered or in a prison.  An inquiry later enhanced by zig-zagged projections on the fabric we were looking through.  The tastefully sparse costumes highlighted the performers’ beauty and I was reminded of how majestic women are, in all iterations, with different curves, hair lengths, textures and hues of skin.

The tone in this screened in cage was desperate, sad and played with themes of struggle and vulnerability but through it all a feminine strength became apparent.  Not only through the athleticism of these prodigious artistic athletes but in an instinctual comradery that naturally exists between woman, especially at times of crisis.

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