For most dance performances, there’s no need to advise audience members to wear their hiking boots. But then, most dance performances aren’t like the works of Atlanta-based company Glo.
Since 2009, the singular company with the strange name has been creating its site-specific, migratory works all around the city, innovative pieces that invite viewers to follow performers into some of the most unlikely settings for dance. This month sees Glo unveiling one of its most ambitious and sprawling projects yet, an epic, multiday journey to various disregarded sites along the Chattahoochee River as it snakes its way through the city of Atlanta. (And, yes, a good, sturdy pair of walking shoes or hiking boots would undoubtedly be a good idea.)
“The river is always happening,” says Glo founder and artistic director Lauri Stallings, who chose to set the company’s latest piece along a section of the Chattahoochee River that most Atlantans rarely visit or even consider. “We just lost it. We don’t value it. … The work was originally going to be at sites that are more aesthetically pleasing, more manicured. But that trail is known, it’s been cut, it’s been paved and graveled. I just wasn’t able to find the essence of Glo and the platform’s mission at those places.”
In six performances of the new work, “Red Hill River (of Brotherhood),” across 16 days, performers will lead audiences to five “hidden” sites along the river, all of them within spitting distance of well-trafficked streets on the westside of town. The work opens at 7 p.m. July 8 with a performance beginning on Paul Avenue, a neighborhood just off Marietta Street, near the abandoned former home of renowned African-American folk artist Gregory Warmack, popularly known as Mr. Imagination. Over the course of the evening, the performance will slowly migrate down a forest path nearby, across train tracks and toward the river.
Like the other settings for the work, it’s an area that’s surreally wild, lush and natural considering its proximity to busy urban streets and the industrial blight along this section of the Chattahoochee. The company’s exploratory forays into the area have yielded some extraordinary discoveries: glimpses of wild turkey, deer and rabbit, stalks of blossoming cotton plants (possible survivors from when the area was farmland), an abandoned cabin, an old trolley tunnel buried under kudzu, forgotten brick paths, granite outcroppings, a decaying playground and even an odd sculptural object made of woven tree branches that some have speculated may be the remains of a Native American fish trap.
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As audience members follow the company through the various sites, they’ll likewise make some of these discoveries for themselves. For Glo and Stallings, it’s all about getting people on their feet and thinking about the history, meaning and potential in Atlanta’s many places.
“You can’t get away from industry and the corporate mentality right next to the river,” Stallings says. “You can’t get away from land use by our city. … I can’t believe how graceful it is for being treated so badly. That is a reason we want to get people to these sites, to see what caring and grace and consciousness can do to the site as opposed to power and economics. That’s at every one of the sites. I’m not saying any of this is undiscovered. I’m saying look at this shoreline. Why don’t we spend more effort making it part of a neighborhood’s passageway?”
Engaging with the neighborhoods and communities where the works are set is a central part of Glo’s process, something which Stallings and her company consider just as significant as the performance itself. “It always starts with us being on the site, making sure that I’m not rushing into the space, allowing for time and conversation,” she says. The organization’s dancers, board and volunteers often spend weeks and even months engaging with local communities. “They make sure we’re not ‘helicoptering’ in with these big ideas. That’s a really big effort, to make sure they get to every door.”
For “Red Hill River (of Brotherhood),” Glo is collaborating with Chattahoochee NOW, a nonprofit committed to transforming the river corridor and making it more people-friendly, and Groundwork Atlanta, a nonprofit that similarly seeks to improve the environment through community-based partnerships. The organizations helped Stallings and her company select sites for the work, connect with local communities and gather information about the river’s history.
For Stallings and her company, all of it leads back to their efforts to get the people of Atlanta moving together. “A body moving is a body that’s spiritual, that’s fair, a body that doesn’t see difference,” she says. “That’s dance to me. That’s why I can’t stop dancing, that’s why Glo can’t stop dancing. … These natural systems, if we spent more time in them, we’d treat ourselves better, we would treat each other better. I hope these journeys can offer that.”