The Indigo Girls, who first took that name in 1985, are artists of questions, and it was questions such as these that inspired a recent collaboration of the Decatur duo with the Creative Loafing Dancers. Many people are surprised to learn that Creative Loafing even has a dance company, imagining, perhaps, that we spend all our days staring catatonically into our computer monitors while our carpal tunneled wrists click out sophisticated Google queries for high-minded erotica.
All true, of course, but look under our keyboard trays (it's OK), and you'll find our toes tapping. That second cup of mocha latte? No. We just love to dance.
So it was that on one late Thursday afternoon we found ourselves blasting the Indigo Girls' new album, All That We Let In. It started off small: roller chair pirouettes and rhythmic keyboard clicks. But then columnist Jane Catoe jumped on a desk and started belly dancing to the ska-scented "Heartache for Everyone," a song of waiting way too long (and a little bit longer) for an unrequited love.
Emboldened by Jane's example, mood swinging Hollis Gillespie asked senior editor John Sugg to slow dance to "All That We Let In." When Amy Ray started grinding out "Tether," the rawest song on the album, columnist Tony Ware, copee editur Chante LaGon and myself collided in an impromptu mosh pit.
At least that's how I remember it.
Out of this magical afternoon (which our lawyers have instructed us to tell you preceded any announcement of the Atlanta Ballet's revival, this weekend, of Shed Your Skin / The Indigo Girls Project) came an idea: the inspiration for a narrative ballet about two Decatur girls and one oft-ignored color of the rainbow made good. We call it:
Indigo Girls: Untucked
(Two Decades of Decatur Folk Rock)
Two mismatched plaid-clad Decatur girls learn the value of friendship in this heartwarming story of ... whoops, sorry, that's the synopsis of our upcoming ABC-Family movie, Singing Purple, Singing Blue: The Story of Punky Ray and Emmie. The ballet is pretty much the same story, except we let Amy Ray say "fuck" a couple times, and Emily gets to kiss Joni Mitchell.
The Watershed: Starving the Emptiness, and Feeding the Hunger
Scene: The Watershed, the Decatur restaurant co-owned by Emily Saliers. Closing time. A group of musical friends gather to hear Amy and Emily play songs from their new album. Emily is wearing a Western-stitched, button-down shirt, the tails hanging out over her jeans. Amy has on a faded black rock concert T-shirt, layered with an untucked red chamois shirt, the sleeves rolled up, revealing her muscular forearms.
As the scene opens, they're playing "All That We Let In," a quintessential Saliers ballad that tells of reuniting with a long-neglected acquaintance. "I was either gonna be the prodigal or the banished friend," Emily sings. At a table in the corner, Tracy Chapman is talking with Sinead O'Connor about a revolution, but Sinead keeps interrupting her to ask if she's seen the black boys on mopeds who promised to drive her home. Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco are leaning into one another, swaying off time. And Michael Stipe is bouncing around the room like a palsied Tigger.
"By now I know," Emily sings, "the answer's always in the question."
During an instrumental bridge, Amy and Emily look at one another and remember ...
Double Solo de Decatur,
and the Pas de Deux de Plaid
Scene: Various locations in Decatur and Atlanta, from the mid-1970s to 1987.
A medley of music by the duo's major musical influences play while Amy and Emily dance simultaneous solos on the stage. The piece opens with John Denver singing "Grandma's Feather Bed," but it's suddenly interrupted when Amy smashes the record against a monitor and stalks off, while Emily looks sadly at the broken pieces.
The dance solos begin again. Performed to Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, Emily's performance is clean and classical, straight-backed and elegant. Amy dances angrily to the Violent Femmes and the Clash. She moves in a fighter's crouch, knees bent, overgrown bangs obscuring her eyes, looking like she's about to attack.
The women first encounter each other in a Decatur elementary school. They begin to play music together in preparation for a high school talent show. They go on to play at open-mic nights as "Saliers & Ray" and "The B-Band."
After two years apart for college (Emily at Tulane, Amy at Vanderbilt), they transfer to Emory and begin playing in earnest, soon becoming a fixture at the Little Five Points Pub. Dancing their Pas de Deux de Plaid, they play selections from Strange Fire, their first LP, which was released in 1987 -- the year Tracy Chapman's success returned women and folk to the music industry's radar.
Atlanta-Athens Arabesque, In Which
Our Heroes Are Bested by Milli Vanilli
Scene: Uptown Lounge and The Grammies
After hearing the Indigo Girls play at the Uptown Lounge in Athens, Michael Stipe of R.E.M. dances a trio with Amy and Emily to "Kid Fears," a song for which Stipe contributed backing vocals on the Indigo Girls' 1989 self-titled LP. (The collaboration would later lead many rock reporters in need of a fact checker to brand the Indigo Girls an Athens band.) The dance is soulful and simple. It's a marked contrast to the Grammy Awards ensemble, in which Michael Bolton and Living Colour dance and sing (a la Run D.M.C. and Aerosmith) on a stage lit by the reflection of a thousand gold and platinum records. A Best New Artist Grammy headed for the Indigo Girls is swiped mid-leap by the dancing duo of well-rested "vocalists" Milli Vanilli. Left alone on the stage, Amy and Emily sing a quiet, a cappella version of "Closer to Fine" while an oversized Best Contemporary Folk Recording Grammy descends from the ceiling.
Fan Fantasia, and the Mourning
of the SNAGs
Scene: Lilith Fair
Having finally convinced the music industry (with the release of their highly accomplished Swamp Ophelia) that they are neither a "women's band" (too many sensitive New Age guys fall in love with them, then mourn en masse as the Girls become increasingly open about their sexual orientation), nor a "political band" (despite their overt activism outside the band, their music had become too rich and their lyrics too introspective for simplistic polemic), the Indigo Girls join Sarah McLachlan's "Lilith Fair," a politically overtoned tour of women singers and songwriters.
The corps de ballet enacts a struggle to own and define the Indigo Girls. Personal or political? Feeling or philosophical? A little bit country or a little bit rock 'n' roll? Amy and Emily stand on a platform above the fray, stubbornly refusing to be defined.
Ballet on the Side, and the
Resurrection of Amy Christ
Scene: The Fox Theatre
The scene opens with the theme song from Andrew Lloyd Weber's Jesus Christ Superstar, with Amy and Emily re-enacting their roles as, respectively, Jesus and Mary Magdalene in a 1994 revival based in Atlanta. (Amy would later release a recording of the soundtrack on Daemon Records, her private indie label.)
They then cast off their robes and pick up their guitars to play "Touch Me Fall," one of their masterworks, while members of the Atlanta Ballet dance selections from the 2001 production (reprised this weekend) of Shed Your Skin / The Indigo Girls Project. The exciting non-narrative ballet first envisioned by Atlanta Ballet Director John McFall was choreographed by Margo Sappington, who had previously created a ballet for the Joffrey Ballet set to the music of Prince. The Indigo Girls perform live on stage with the Ballet.
Scene: The Flying Biscuit
It's the early morning and no one has slept. Amy Ray finishes up a set of songs from her solo album, Stag, a collection of punk- and rock-inspired songs too harsh for the Indigo Girls collective. Everyone piles into Tracy Chapman's fast car, and they all go to The Flying Biscuit, another business venture of Emily's, for breakfast. Amy asks Emily, "How'd a girl from Connecticut learn to cook Southern comfort so good?" Emily smiles, "Aw, when God made me born a Yankee she was teasing."
Buzzing from the coffee, the friends break out in a dancing sing-along of "This Train," then exit the stage, bound for glory.
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