Review: Chattahoochee scenery takes central role in dance performance

A walk in the woods, a glimpse of the sunset reflected in water, a stop by the river on a summer night. These things shouldn’t be rare, but for city dwellers, they often are. A recent performance by Atlanta-based dance company Glo not only offered each of these things, but also served to remind viewers how strangely close and accessible they all really are.

Glo is a dance troupe founded in 2009 by choreographer Lauri Stallings that often performs works in unusual locations around the city, from busy Midtown streets to tucked-away forgotten spots and odd corners of the urban landscape. The company’s latest work, titled “Red Hill River (of Brotherhood),” is meant to showcase five “hidden” spots along the Chattahoochee River, all within a short distance of busy streets on the westside of town, but rarely if ever visited by most Atlantans. The work began at its first location off Paul Avenue on the evening of Friday, July 8, and continues across four more locations throughout July.

With eight female dancers dressed in somber black suits moving in silent formation down Paul Avenue, the opening of the work at sunset on Friday evening had a hushed, reverent, funereal feel. It was an especially resonant tone considering the preceding week during which the country experienced some of its most troubling, racially charged violence in decades. The work never directly referenced such events or purported to offer extractable opinions about them, though as it unfolded, it did seemingly offer an alternative, if temporary, vision of interpersonal relations, one in which art, generative communal experience and the natural world — all but absent from discussions of the week’s events — were gently suggested as paths for constructive resolution.

Interspersed throughout the crowd of about 60 onlookers, sometimes taking viewers by the hand, other times forming curious tableaux by the side of the path, the dancers either assembled together or slowly led viewers individually down a wooded path toward the river.

At sunset, the impossibly lush setting had an almost Edenic beauty. One overheard a startling number of “nevers” from the adventurous set of viewers: “I’ve never been to this part of the city,” “I never go on evening hikes like this” and even “I’ve never seen the Chattahoochee.” (And “adventurous” isn’t a word I use lightly: A stopped train made crossing a set of train tracks between the road and the river unexpectedly complicated, with viewers having to choose between bending down to duck underneath or climbing up a few rungs of a ladder to inch across the back of one of the train cars.)

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The trip to the river was a quiet, meditative journey, one which proceeded in slow, gradually changing stages like a natural process. It was, by definition, a participatory evening for viewers, though it also contained a surprising amount of interaction between performers and onlookers: eye contact, hand holding, even embracing. This had its sweetness and strength, but also its share of awkwardness and tension, even discomfort and embarrassment, as audience participation tends to elicit. As a viewer, I preferred the intimation of communal ritual as metaphorical rather than having it made so literal, and the performance seemed to be without a definitive ending.

Still, all in all, it was an extraordinary beginning to what promises to be an epic journey throughout July. One felt the familiar concerns of both the urban world and the natural, but also a far rarer feeling: the safety and comfort of exploring these realms as part of a community. It’s certainly not an area most would venture into at night alone, but within a group, there was the freedom to follow individual curiosity down a new path through what one had imagined was familiar old territory, a gloriously expansive feeling if there ever was one.

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