This concert was a lot to digest for a little old writer like myself, but in a good way. There was so much I liked, by way of movement vocabulary, image and theme, that it was hard for me to process and put onto paper. I’ll tell you what, folks; I am becoming a very big fan of the redefining process–or metamorphosis–Atlanta Ballet is currently experiencing. I think they are making really good choices in the work and choreographers that they commission. I like an edgy company and artistic director John McFall is taking risks and driving them to the lip of a canyon.
But first, let’s talk about the Alliance Theater in downtown Atlanta, adjacent to the High Museum in the Woodruff Arts Center; the theater is simply gorgeous. Outside the front doors, one is greeted by a gigantic metal sculpture of a person holding a sphere, but it’s made up of hundreds of tiny artist-figure models. Inside the building one could get lost in its vast lobby. In fact, there are two performance spaces and I initially ended up at the wrong box office. And as for my seats, I’m on the small side, barely kissing 5’2”, so I love to get a bird’s eye view of a performance. I also have this thing about seeing a dancer’s feet, not to mention the giant heads that usually block my view. I was thrilled when I realized I had front row balcony seats. The night was off to a good start.
IGNITION was a night of new choreographic voices. The artists were from all over, but their work was relevant to the city of Atlanta. It was as though each choreographer flew in, got a Petri dish of local flavor through the dancers, the city and history, and took it to the lab to create something magical.
The first order of business was a piece called FLUX by Bennyroyce Royon. The first image we got was a series of white squares hanging from the ceiling almost like a disjointed quilt. The movement vocabulary was delicious. The dancers swam in the space as though they were moving through something tangible like pudding. They rolled through their bodies and arms like modern break dancers, without the hard edge, “mend” or “heal” dancers, if you will. They were smooth and serpentine, but when they did stop and pop it was surprising and took my breath away. Images of the work were projected on the fabric behind, in a slow, Butoh fashion. As the piece moved forward, florescent lights were lowered to represent a cityscape behind the action. The tempo got faster and more frantic and so did the choreography, but the dancers still executed it in the same calm, perfect manner. It was a striking contrast and a testament to how really talented these dancers are.
My favorite moment was later on in section III. Lush and Chopped, was comprised of three duets that occurred simultaneously. Each duet was danced by the pairs Tara Lee and John Welker, Alessa Rogers and Jonah Hooper, and Christine Winkler and Heath Gill. The men seemed to move the women without touching them–almost like elegant puppets. They weaved in and out of each other’s negative space, connecting every now and again, like they were having a conversation underwater. I forgot to mention the funniest part of this piece; I love it when a ballet company is allowed to perform in their socks.
Quietly Walking, by Gina Patterson, was the next dance on the roster. The central theme of this work was urbanization and deforestation. In the program she mentions a very powerful image of seeing trees one day and nothing the next but a lonely disoriented turkey. She uses this feeling of disconnection throughout the piece. We started off with the dancers, in blue velvet costumes, entering the stage in a very businesslike manner. They marched around robotically on a grid, men versus women. Soon a tree appeared on stage separating the stage into two different worlds. Up stage there was a green, more natural setting and a grey, urban realm down stage. There was a nice scene with six dancers, two female dancers each engaged in a pas-de-trios with two men. The women had removed their skirts and were being beautifully manipulated in the air. As the piece unfolded the dancers entered the space in various stages of undress, suggesting a vulnerability and feeling of displacement. Nature is represented by three dancers in gowns and point shoes, bathed in a neon green light in the background. At one point five male dancers joined the nature goddesses, facing in all directions. They melted as though nature was breaking down industry, like delicate grass growing through the cracks in an unforgiving sidewalk.
One of the highlights of this piece was when Christine Winkler and Christian Clark were slowly walking towards the audience. They engaged in a duet but were joined by Rachel Van Buskirk. She danced the duet without a partner but, like the turkey, we would find her getting disoriented, torn between both worlds. The women in green, played by Anne Tyler Harshbarger, Kristine Necessary and Abigail Tan floated nearby as Van Buskirk got lost in the woods. There was a variation on this theme with Tara Lee and Jesse Tyler dancing the duet and both Nadia Mara and Jonah Hooper represented the wandering, wild turkey role. Mara executed the fast, frenetic parts and Hooper did the big-yet-quiet moments of the duet. In the end one woman was left running and melting in a spot light.
The next piece was Home in 7 by Amy Seiwert. On stage the dancers were joined by a poet reciting a piece that was written and performed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and a violinist, who also composed his own music, Daniel Bernard Roumain. Roumain was off to the side jamming live in his own little cosmos, sometimes alone and other times with recorded accompaniment. The poetry, which completed the score, was rooted in southern Atlanta culture and the poet gave a fine performance. Joseph’s ever present voice circulated the action; he supported the dancers with his words but he was equally the main attraction. What became clear during this piece was how amazing the dancers are. For example, in section one, Secrets, John Welker, who we had seen throughout the show, gave a brilliant performance. He was sharp, athletic and manly. With his spot-on technique he was able to perfectly execute an arabesque turn to the floor.
What I loved about Home in 7, as a whole, was that you have this “in your face” poetry, but the movement didn’t dictate the words verbatim. The choreography still told the story in an abstract way. An homage to Atlanta, the themes from section to section ranged from baseball to beautiful southern women. The poems described everything from Georgia red clay to the”missing and murdered children case.” The words, dance and music came together seamlessly to paint mourning relatives and the rebuilding of a great city.
I get a little nervous when I enjoy a concert as much as I did this one. I know it will take a little longer for me to digest it all, process the information and find the right words to describe the show. I want Atlanta to get a good sense of the quality of work being put on its stages. I am proud to be part of the force trying to get audiences out of their living rooms and into the theaters. I have to say, if you are not a ballet lover and you think it’s just filled with poofy costumes, dying princesses and men leaping in circles, this is the company that will change your mind. If you have never seen a ballet company live this is the company to see. If you love all genres of dance and want to experience a really great performance, Atlanta Ballet will not disappoint you. If you need a special date night and a place to wear something pretty, well . . . you get the point. Georgia, support your arts and become a patron of your very own ballet company.
The Movement In Stillness – “First Breath” by Travis Magee
“First Breath”, a new exhibition of photography by Travis Magee
The Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery
Film Society of Lincoln Center
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?”
Dearly Departures: “A Long Way… A Longer Distance Call”
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.”
T. Lang: A Woman Searching
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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