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Elevate: Street Dance in Atlanta

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Dancers of the Compagnie Derniere Minute. Elevate, France-Atlanta 2012. Photograph by Roy Howton.

On Saturday, October 27, the Cultural Expressions portion of France-Atlanta 2012 celebrated the end of Elevate, the cultural program that placed temporary art installations in downtown, with a street dance in downtown Atlanta. After all, what is more fleeting than dance?! It was an ending, but also the start of three days of dance events as part of the festival.

The eight French hip hop dancers of Compagnie Derniere Minute, under the direction of Pierre Rigal, gathered in the closed-off block of 100 Broad Street just before 5:00 pm. They interacted with the small audience of local residents, arts patrons, a children’s birthday party, food trucks, and other curious passers-by, sometimes dancing for a moment, sometimes not. The audience moved into the street with them, and some of the dancers began working with the children to create interactive dance on the spot. Two of the men began leading the audience down the block in a Pied Piper inspired game of Follow the Leader. At the end of the block, against the barricades, the dancers paused, leading the disappointed audience to believe it was all over.

Enter: a striped bicycle with speakers strapped to the handlebars, music pulsing. Two dancers ran across the street and began to improvise on a square of concrete and a manhole cover, using a carefully timed sequence that moved from one spot to the next. Soon all eight performers were in the improvised dance, pausing at four distinct points to improvise movement grounded in modern dance but expressed in the hip hop vocabulary.

Elevate, France-Atlanta 2012. Photograph by Roy Howton.

This was followed by a complex, interwoven pattern of movement on the street corner and then a Contra Dance in the street, with the dancers meeting a separating over and

Elevate, France-Atlanta 2012. Photograph by Roy Howton.

over. From then on, the bicycle became a part of the dance, sometimes leading the dancers, sometimes following them, sometimes chasing them back up the block. The dancers dangled from handrails,

hid behind walls, hung from fences, flirted with the food trucks and their operators, and intermingled with the audience, some of whom joined the dance. At one point the dancers coerced the audience to one side of a metal wall forming a shelter, then disappeared behind the wall, only to reappear one by one in a series of improvised hip hop moves. The dance was clearly a mixture of created dance and improvisation based on the location and its landmarks.

My favorite portion closed the event; it involved all eight dancers and the wall of a building, where the dancers pressed against the wall of a building, moved along it, climbed it, and finally created pyramids upon it.

Elevate, France-Atlanta 2012. Photograph by Roy Howton.

 

The dancers seemed to range in age from the early twenties to the forties. They were a diverse group, physically, technically, and in their personalities.Some were internally focused, others played charmingly to and with the audience. The dancers were irrepressible, energetic, whimsical, and occasionally breathtaking.

Elevate, France-Atlanta 2012. Photograph by Roy Howton.

 

 

 

 

When it was over, the eight dancers, both men and women, spoke with the audience, devoting special attention to the children.

The great part for me, because I am short, is that there was a small audience and everyone could see well. But that is very sad,

Elevate, France-Atlanta 2012. Photograph by Roy Howton.

because it was a delightful event that should have been much better attended. Perhaps it was the minimal publicity, at least in the areas outside Downtown Atlanta. Perhaps it was the cold front coming in, or the hour, or the fact that Broad Street is hard to find for those of us who travel IP (inside the perimeter) infrequently (my Google Map and my GPS both directed me incorrectly and I almost missed the event. I know I will be watching impatiently for France-Atlanta 2013, and you should, too.Meanwhile, Compagnie Derniere Minute will perform Sunday, October 28, at the Rialto Theatre on Georgia State University’s campus, and director Pierre Rigal will present a one-man show Monday evening at The Goat Farm Arts Center.

Dancer against a background of street art. Elevate, France-Atlanta 2012. Photograph by Roy Howton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information, visit www.france-atlanta.org.

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“20/20:Visionary”: Looking Back, Looking Forward

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Photograph by Charlie McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

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.

Pen-Yu Chen & Tara Lee in “Boiling Point.” Photo by C McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

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.

“Red Clay” from “Home in 7.” Photo by C McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

“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!

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Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker” Enchants

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© Laura Christian

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.

Mother Matrushka in Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” Photograph by C. McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

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.

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Kurtis Blow and the Hip Hop Nutcracker

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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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