Saturday, May 12, at The Beam Theater, marked the fourth annual Collaborations Atlanta performance, produced by Jamie Horban. Collaborations offers the opportunity for collaboration between creators of different art forms. Some of the collaborations included music performance and art; dance, poetry, and theater; dance and film; and the more common dance and music, and film and music.
It was refreshing and inspiring to attend a performance that emphasized creative collaboration over technical expertise and perfection. That’s not to say there was no technical expertise. But these pieces seemed to be about the process as much as the final product. For artists and those of us who like to watch art being made, this concert was a peek at the making of art in Atlanta. The Beam is an intimate theatre where the performers and the audience can reach across and physically touch each other. For this performance, the audience was seen as another collaborator in the artistic process.
There were too many works on the program to discuss each one separately—but it is a great thing that Atlanta has so many artists willing to work in teams, rather than only alone. Collaboration feeds the artistic process as nothing else does. I do want to mention some highlights, although the whole evening kept the audience engaged.
The most professional performance, and one that intrigued me, was Daniel and Kate Guyton’s piece with Christopher Hall. It combined poetry, theater, and Israeli Gaga dance, an improvisational technique using a movement vocabulary developed by Ohad Naharin of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company. Simply costumed and expertly presented by both the actors and the dancer, the use of the Gaga movement lent a surreal aura to what would otherwise have felt like straight theater.
The belly dancing by Jahara Phoenix Dance Company overshadowed the art portion of the collaboration, but the intricate choreographic patterns, the highly-developed performing qualities of the dancers, and the breathtaking use of fabric fans, made this piece a clear audience favorite. I have to vote with the audience on this one.
“Throw the Pot” was one of the more interesting collaborations. It offered visuals of beautiful hand-thrown pots, paired with a spoken word script using definitions appropriate to pottery and the throwing of pots. Because of technical difficulties, the film and video portions of the performance were on a small screen on stage right, rather than being projected onto the backdrop. In the case of this collaboration, the alternate plan worked really well.
Sometimes a special performer stands out. In Collaborations, it was Angelica, in Brent Smith and Project 6 Movement’s “Ready or Not.” The choreography was structured as a delightful ensemble-and-canon work, and the dancers were well-rehearsed and competent. However, Angelica’s willingness to take risks with the movement had the audience holding our collective breath—not with fear that she would fail, but with excitement, as she repeatedly flirted with danger on the outer limits of balance, then used every ounce of control to transition to the next movement. Few dancers ever find that ability, and she is definitely one to watch.
At times I was disappointed that some of the collaborations seemed more like coincidences—I would have liked to see more connection between the art forms being presented. One expects to see dance paired with music, but more interaction between the musical performers and the dancers, rather than merely having them on the same stage at the same time, could have made the presentations even more exciting. “Sea of Individuality” was not one of those coincidences. It was beautifully crafted with layers of meaning, and exquisitely performed, especially by the mime/dancer. Short and sweet, it was a gem of a work and perhaps the clearest example of the collaborative process.
The most disappointing thing about Collaborations is that there was only one performance. The theater was crowded, but it’s a shame that more Atlantans won’t have the chance to see what our arts community can do when its various members come together to create works that step outside of the usual silos. Plan to attend next year, Atlanta!
“20/20:Visionary”: Looking Back, Looking Forward
Last weekend (March 18-20) the Atlanta Ballet gifted the city with “20/20: Visionary,” three pieces, including a world premiere, presented at the Cobb Energy Center.
The world premiere, “Playground,” by British choreographer Douglas Lee, belied its name by being a shadowy piece danced between upright, rolling chalkboard set pieces. Prepared for a lighthearted, joyful expression of childhood, I was surprised that the work instead exposed the darker side of childhood memories. There were some light moments, such as the towering billboard inscribed with multiple lines reading, “Jackie must remember the steps” – clearly a humorous aside about Jackie Nash, one of the most capable company members and perhaps the quickest study in rehearsal. There were some easily-seen choreographic devices–a lot of theme and variation, even more pushing around of set pieces–but there were a few exceptional moments as well, including intricate, slow-motion manipulation of a dancer’s body by another dancer.
The opening work, “Boiling Point,” by Darrell Grand Moultrie, was playfully performed at breakneck speed. Dancers are often told to “make it look easy,” and the company took that concept to heart. Highlighted against the men in black costumes, the women wore bits of metallic fabric, providing splashes of intense color and exposing powerful bodies with long muscles. The piece began with the stage space open almost to its fullest, and the dancers running across like a rushing river. They rolled, twisted, turned, and slid like water itself. The choreography juxtaposed synchronicity with counterpoint, traditional with innovation. There was a gargouillade, rarely seen even in classical ballets. The lines of the bodies were critical to the piece, and often layers deep. The flow was almost nonstop, with only an occasional flick of a wrist or toss of a head to provide momentary stasis. The standout was Christian Clark, who sometimes nearly managed to integrate himself into the group but then something distinctive and powerful in his dancing drew the eye to him again.
“Home in 7,” a work by Amy Siewert, closed the concert. A portrait of Atlanta, the ballet was a rich tapestry woven from music, spoken word, and movement. Performed in 7 segments to a libretto written and performed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and an intriguing, haunting string score composed and performed by Daniel Bernard Roumain, the dance, too, was a poem, shimmering like summer moonlight on the Chattahoochee. John Welker opened the ballet with tiny explosions of movement “Secrets.” Perhaps the most enchanting segment was “Home of the Braves:” 5 men using baseball imagery, holding their formation as they slid precisely between pitches and catches. “Red Clay” evoked August nights, intolerance, and redemption—Atlanta history, a story familiar to many. I first saw this ballet in 2011, and it has grown in depth as the dancers have matured technically and emotionally. Atlanta loves its ballet company, and never more than when it showcases its home city.
John McFall is ending his tenure with the company at the end of this season. For newcomers to Atlanta Ballet offerings, this will have been a dynamic performance. For long-time supporters, it will have been an opportunity to reflect on his legacy. There are a couple more opportunities to see the company under his watch, and then he will pass the torch to Gennadi Nedvigin, the company’s fourth artistic director. Stay tuned!
Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker” Enchants
This year, the Atlanta Ballet marks the 20th anniversary of Artistic Director John McFall’s “The Nutcracker.” Attendance is a familiar holiday season tradition for many area families, who line up to see the changes and improvements that occur each year. While the story of the young girl who receives a Nutcracker-who-comes-to-life is familiar to thousands of ballet fans, there are many versions. The Atlanta Ballet’s production is richly designed and elegantly danced.
Originally a failure in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892, “The Nutcracker” is now a holiday staple in the United States. Nobody dances it any better than the Atlanta Ballet, and nobody loves it more than a matinee house full of children! Whether they are watching their peers on-stage; hearing the Georgia Youth Choir singing in the Snow scene from the boxes; absorbing the live music from the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra in the pit; laughing with joy at Mother Matrushka’s children, emerging from under her skirts; screaming with glee at the capering Chinese Dragon; or reaching far above their heads to capture a snowflake, the children are enraptured for the two-plus hours the ballet is on the stage—and the adults are mesmerized right beside them.
There are some elements of this version of the ballet that are not my favorites, but the dancers didn’t make that list. Casting is impeccable, and, for me, part of the excitement of revisiting the old standby is seeing the dancers mature, improve, and demonstrate new abilities. The other part is watching the children captivated by the allure of the Fabulous Fox Theatre, the live music, the dancers, and the dancing—and being enthralled myself.
My list of this year’s positives goes like this:
John McFall has to contend with decreasing audience attention spans as we move further into the age of technology, and he tweaks Act I each year to make it more exciting. It is fast-paced. You may want to see the ballet more than once to catch everything! The foreshadowing during Act I was clear and well-conceived, and had the audience eagerly anticipating the return of the dancers to the stage after intermission.
Kurtis Blow and the Hip Hop Nutcracker
A holiday mash-up for the entire family, The Hip Hop Nutcracker, a contemporary work set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless music, embarks on an international tour on the strength of last December’s sold-out performances of the world premiere at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) and United Palace of Cultural Arts (UPCA) in New York City. The Hip Hop Nutcracker will make a stop at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre Saturday, Nov. 28 at 2 p.m.
The Hip Hop Nutcracker is directed and choreographed by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the all-female hip-hop crew Decadancetheatre in Brooklyn. It is adapted to today’s New York by Mike Fitelson, executive director of UPCA – the work’s original producer – and includes hip-hop interludes remixed and reimagined by DJ Boo and violinist Filip Pogády.
For its stop at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 28, The Hip Hop Nutcracker features special guest MC Kurtis Blow, one of the founders and creators of recorded rap music.
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