Review: ‘Hippodrome’ touches all the senses

Performance review

“Hippodrome: A Triptych on Urban Stages”

Lauri Stallings with gloATL, Gyun Hur, Opera Singers of Atlanta, Sonic Generator.

8 p.m. Friday through Sunday. $25, general admission; $15, students & artists.

“Hippo Tryp” performance and feast, 7:30 p.m. Monday. $100.

Goodson Yard, Goat Farm Arts Center, 1200 Foster St. 404-964-3210,

Ruins of ancient hippodromes — Greek and Roman stadiums for horse and chariot races — reveal a simple structure: an oval track surrounded by tiered seating. This concept inspired “Hippodrome,” a performance directed and choreographed by Lauri Stallings, founder of the collaborative performance group gloATL.

As director, Stallings oversaw a remarkable collaboration. As choreographer, her foray into uncharted movement territory could have used some formal reining-in. But the 72-minute work, which runs through Monday, offers compelling moments in one of the most imaginative and inviting performances gloATL has offered at the Goat Farm Arts Center’s Goodson Yard.

“Hippodrome” is Stallings’ first collaboration with visual artist Gyun Hur and her most elaborate use of Goodson Yard’s interior. The set by Chris Melhouse and the Goat Farm construction crew transformed the hollow, decaying warehouse into a warm and welcoming performance venue. Hur built an installation of fresh flowers and turf, bringing the tender new life of spring inside the decaying warehouse.

This natural beauty was amplified by the sacred simplicity of Arvo Pärt’s music, performed live by Sonic Generator, which is Georgia Tech’s contemporary music ensemble, and four members of the Atlanta Opera. Tian Justman’s costumes tastefully supported the conception; Rebecca Makus’ lighting pushed the edge. Her use of saturated lime-green and black light overrode the choreography’s subtler effects.

But within this captivating visual and sonic environment, and through kinesthetic and olfactory senses, “Hippodrome” explored ideas of what is public and communal, but also private and of the interior. The abstract work dealt with themes of communication, collection, movement, change, loss and growth.

Fresh flowers bordered a winding, turf-laden path that led into the arena space, up a ramp and onto a set of tiered platforms surrounding a green stage area. Hur’s L-shaped, raised flower bed was filled with fresh, live flowers of gold, orange, purple and plum. The form peaked at one corner in tall, vibrant magenta flowers. At the opposite corner, a circular “sacred space” was filled with pieces of white silk daffodils.

Contrasts between Pärt’s rich harmonies and Stallings’ off-kilter movement language felt awkward at times, but the work also created deeply moving experiences. In the opening, dancer Virginia Coleman entered on all fours, as if embodying an aged horse. She crawled slowly up the ramp and around the stage perimeter. Decrepit, her hips and shoulders rose and sunk as if each step contained the weariness of the ages. Later, Jimmy Joyner came to her aid, and their duet grew into friendship, support and quirky shared joy.

The work climaxed to solemn drumbeats of Pärt’s “Fratres.” The eight-member ensemble raced around the perimeter, convened at the center and dispersed just as quickly. Later, Nicole Johnson crept down into the sacred circle and submerged herself under silk petals. She then burst upward and began sobbing in an outpouring of grief. A campfire smell drifted in, recalling the playfulness and innocence of childhood, and its loss. Rain fell on the live flowers, as if the heavens were weeping in chorus.

“Hippodrome” is a beautiful work, but its awkward movement vocabulary could use some gentle editing. Perhaps by Monday evening’s special finale and feast, “Hippo Tryp,” Stallings’ remarkable collaboration will meet its potential as one of her most compelling dance productions to date. The stage is set.