Offbeat outside ballet charms

Meanwhile, at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta the Atlanta Symphony played to tradition with Beethoven.

Atlanta choreographer Lauri Stallings has a burgeoning national reputation and a devoted local following, especially after she teamed up with Atlanta Ballet and Big Boi (from hip-hop’s OutKast) to produce “Big.” Stallings’ latest project is gloATL, where classically trained dancers get more limber with modern forms.

From the start of “Rapt,” the conventions of proscenium-theater dance were obliterated. The performance started at dusk outside. At opposite ends of the open space, two women danced their way to the middle — Virginia Coleman and Toni Doctor Jenkins — with no music.

The crowd of spectators had no idea where to look or what was happening. Thus one crowd circled around Jenkins on the plaza, unaware that another crowd formed around Coleman, who was coming up the hill from Peachtree Street.

When the company of about 15 dancers finally gathered, to a storm scene from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” another realization took hold: “Rapt” was about shaping the body to rhythm — a very plastic aesthetic — rather than to the contours of the melody.

Indeed, Stallings’ joyous choreography appeared so free-form and improvisatory that the clean geometry of the architecture all around — Richard Meier’s old High Museum, Renzo Piano’s newer additions, Roy Lichtenstein’s cartoonish “House III” — seemed to give “Rapt” its backbone. Video and lighting projections by Adam Larsen and Ryan O’Gara helped envelope the show.

The show’s eight pieces moved us from classical Europe to 21st-century Atlanta, from the plaza toward Peachtree. The hour-plus performance ended with a dance party on the lawn to music celebrating the city, from OutKast’s “The Way You Move” to Ray Charles’ “Georgia.”

Saturday night, in Alpharetta, the ASO settled into routine with an all-Beethoven concert. There’s plenty of life in the old master’s music, although Hugh Wolff conducted a rather dowdy version of Symphony No. 7, and the violas were out of tune.

But their reading of the Piano Concerto No. 3 was refreshing and wholesome, thanks largely to Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen, making his ASO debut. Pohjonen plays with a luminous virtuosity and detailed, crisp ideas. He shaped phrases delightfully in the finale. For the duration of the concerto, at least, the ASO matched the bright-future euphoria of “Rapt” — where tradition doesn’t shackle creativity, it propels it higher.

gloATL’s “Rapt” at the Woodruff Arts Center. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre.

Pierre Ruhe blogs about the arts at

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