Thursday, June 18, 2015.
Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta, GA.
Atlanta Ballet’s summer dance troupe Wabi Sabi recently returned to the city’s beautiful 30-acre green oasis with a program named “Trip the Light Fantastic.” As always, the main focus was contemporary dance interacting with its surroundings—on this occasion, nature and water features—and exploring different styles of movement.
For this year’s performance at Atlanta Botanical Garden, four premieres were presented at different locations throughout the park, each crafted specifically for this illustrious night by company members and affiliates.
The night began with IDYLL, choreographed by Atlanta Ballet dancer Heath Gill and performed by three of the company’s powerful dancers. The music was an original composition by Dede Vogt and Alabama Shakes that conveyed a backyard, tree-swinging, rolling-around-in-the-dirt vibe. It portrayed the innocence of young friendship and the lightheartedness of summer fun. Costumes designed by Kevin Anderson set the playful, casual tone, with the off-white flowing garments soon imprinted by the dirt the dancers frolicked in. Tree stumps were used as sitting stools and launchers as the dancers skipped and jumped.
2 between was the evening’s second adventure. But unlike the piece beforehand, it conveyed less of a literal message. Choreographed by Atlanta Ballet’s Ballet Mistress Sarah Hillmer and performed by three different dancers, this piece was on the move, taking viewers on a walk down through Bruce Munro’s elaborate and impressive light installation created from hundreds of miles of optic fiber. It was now that the sun began to set and the garden began its transformation to a world of glowing orbs. This setting combined with the choreography’s intricate lifts and incredible acts of control, set this dance apart. While the piece was hard to follow at times—crowds made it hard to view in certain areas—it was lovely to see the chosen music from Frédéric Chopin, Tom Waits and Dustin O’Halloran come to life in this outdoor environment. The almost life-like rippling water sounds were expressed in the delicate motion of the artists’ limbs.
Wabi Sabi continued with its third work, 3 Ganesa, which was performed and choreographed by guest artist Meaghan Muller, a member of a new Atlanta-based circus group. Muller spun and formed endless poses in her aerial piece set to “George’s Waltz” played by Shigeru Umebayashi. Poised on a ring attached to a rope, she gracefully maneuvered her body around, through and with the ring, as if it was her pas de deux partner. Set in the center of a grass stage, Muller’s upper body and core strength astounded the crowd and soon left viewers wanting more.
The conclusion of the “Trip the Light Fantastic” program took place indoors due to the potential for rainy weather. Though this was not the piece’s original intention, it still brought a tremendous sense of beauty to the work, perhaps in ways that would have been missed if it was outdoors. The Swimmer, choreographed by Atlanta Ballet longtime dancer Tara Lee, featured costumes by Tamara Cobus that made the large group of dancers appear like glittering sea creatures floating through the ocean. The fluidity of the movement, from the solos to the partner work to the ensemble sections, prevented the audience from segmenting the performance. As the dancers performed, their shadows could be seen on the wall behind them, adding to the allure of the piece. The music was crucial in setting the tone, and Max Richter and Philip Glass had the perfect tracks to making this sea-swimming dance step off the stage and into the crowd’s minds. Although there were many dancers, this did not hinder, but rather added to, the impact of the piece and its poetic meaning.
Atlanta Ballet is known for its diverse repertoire and its summer troupe, Wabi Sabi, is no exception. The night began with a pleasant and innocent piece and ended with a work that left the audience digging deep. The members of the Wabi Sabi troupe displayed poise and elegance while at the same time conveying the choreographers’ messages and contorting their bodies in ways many humans only ever dream of. This program truly lite up the night right alongside Munro’s striking installation.
By Tessa Castellano for Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Atlanta Ballet’s Wabi Sabi performs Heath Gill’s IDYLL. Photo snapped by Chelsea Thomas.