Atlanta Dance 2014: Touring, local dance troupes broke conventions

Atlanta Ballet continued to reshape its profile this year, stretching dancers and audiences in contemporary directions. The Goat Farm Arts Center’s second annual Tanz Farm series joined the Rialto Center for the Arts and the Ferst Center for the Arts as key presenters that keep Atlantans current with dance world trends. Independent artists and smaller troupes found support from Art on the Atlanta BeltLine, Elevate Atlanta and the High Museum of Art’s outdoor series, “Mi Casa, Your Casa.” Arts organizations WonderRoot and Dashboard Co-op embraced dance, as choreographers and companies appeared in public spaces and galleries across the metro area.

Off the Edge

Bridging the gap between local and international stages, the Rialto’s second biennial dance festival broadened its sampling of dance styles and genres, attracting a large and curious audience. Among highlights, dancers from Wayne McGregor’s London-based company Random Dance performed two intensely physical duets. Styles ranged from modern dance to contemporary ballet and from Brazilian hip-hop to tap with an a cappella choir. Dancers from Atlanta Ballet and Kennesaw State University joined the roster of high-caliber performers and held their own with aplomb.

“Roméo et Juliette”

Not since “Dracula” has Atlanta Ballet produced a story ballet so right for its artists and audience. Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Shakespeare-inspired work demonstrated a dramatic rise in dancers’ technique, musicality and emotional nuance. Against the sweep of its luminous set, Maillot’s choreography entwined with Prokofiev’s score and charged it with raw physicality, innocent sexual curiosity and a stark sense of tragedy. Alessa Rogers’ interpretation of Juliette — bold yet fragile, passionate but in charge of her destiny — was a tour de force.

Trey McIntyre Project

The dance world watched when Trey McIntyre, deemed one of the “great hopes” of his generation of ballet choreographers, broke convention in 2008 to set up a full-time touring company based in Boise, Idaho. The Rialto kept Atlanta up to date as McIntyre built an all-American contemporary repertoire marked by musical acuity, emotional resonance and unencumbered grace. Alas, TMP’s fourth Atlanta show came during the company’s farewell tour. “Mercury Half-Life,” the evening’s last work set to music by Freddie Mercury and Queen, gave dancers a full-throttle finale, with each song another version of goodbye.

“This Mother’s Daughter”

In 2013, Giwayen Mata hosted the first full DanceAfrica Atlanta festival in its 20th anniversary season, a few weeks after the troupe reportedly brought the house down at DanceAfrica in New York. Last May, the “all-sistah” dance, percussion and vocal group presented its first full-length narrative work, “This Mother’s Daughter,” to a packed theater at the Fulton County Southwest Arts Center. The story of a woman’s journey from infancy to adulthood linked a series of traditional and contemporary African dances, songs and poetry that quickened heartbeats as the stage brimmed over with life-affirming rhythm.

“Cloth”

In April, Artadia, a New York-based arts funding organization, recognized Lauri Stallings, founder of the performance group Glo, for her artistic contributions to Atlanta. In September, Stallings showed us why, with this elegant collaboration with her dancers and Robert Spano, music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Spano performed two of his own piano compositions, one newly created for the occasion. From the impulse of its first resonant note to flurries of sound and motion, every gesture, body shape and formation seemed inevitably tied to Spano’s music, as dancers in black chiffon enfolded themselves in billowing white fabric, rushed across the space and embraced the Maestro himself. “Cloth” shared a program with “The Tower,” a large-scale, immersive collaboration with filmmakers Micah and Whitney Stansell set to Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”

“Pavement”

Two years ago, Kyle Abraham’s “Another Night,” a tribute to Art Blakey and the 1950s Pittsburgh jazz scene, appeared at the Fox Theatre with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Last month, the Ferst Center for the Arts presented the weightier side of “Another Night,” or “Pavement,” which helped Abraham win a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 2013. Inspired by the 1991 film “Boyz N the Hood” and Abraham’s urban Pittsburgh upbringing, “Pavement” tackled issues surrounding gang and police violence with a lushly fluid movement style and understated sense of drama that were both gorgeous and riveting.

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