(photo by Charlie McCullers)
The preview for big, Big Boi's much-anticipated collaboration with choreographer Lauri Stallings and Atlanta Ballet, took place in the guise of a launch party for Atlanta Ballet's 2007-2008 season. Held at the King Plow Arts Center, it mostly drew the kind of audience -- lovers of the traditional arts -- that probably knew nothing of hip-hop beyond what they might hear on the radio or TV. There were large tables of sushi and peppered chicken, and ballet patrons mingled around the studio with wine glasses in hand.
The host for the evening was John McFall, the company's artistic director. He promised that Atlanta Ballet will create dozens of new costumes for big. "I think we're going to set a bunch of new fashions with big," he said, promising that the finished production will be a fantastic and provocative experience.
Then a fashion show organized by Tootsies, a vintage clothing shop in Buckhead, began. As a DJ spun a dance-pop mix that went from Daft Punk's "Technologic" (great) to dance remixes of Britney Spears' "My Prerogative" and the Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha" (wack), models strutted in a medley of 1920s-inspired dresses, overcoats and ballet-point shoes.
After the models took their bow, two ballet dancers began weaving through the crowd, performing bizarrely angular moves and staring in people's faces. A swarm of children ran out to an area set aside for the performance. Clad in white T-shirts and sweat pants, they did an elaborate step routine; then most of them ran out of the room, leaving one girl to shout, "Big!"
This initiated the central part of the preview, which only lasted 10 to 15 minutes. What we saw was clearly a rough cut, and much of it looked like a work in progress. Plus, there were some strange symbols floating about. What was the meaning of the rose petals the dancers often threw on one another? More importantly, why were so many of them carrying umbrellas?
Standout moments include a number set to OutKast's "Bombs over Baghdad," where the dancers moved slowly and methodically in contrast to the song's rapid-fire booty bass beat. Another found a male and female dancer moving harmoniously to Sleepy Brown's "I Can't Wait."
Although the big preview was short and sweet, it was remarkable to see hip-hop and R&B music set to a ballet, albeit one that was more a hybrid of modern dance than a traditional ballet like Swan Lake. After it was finished, McCall brought Big Boi and Stallings to the performance area, and both received rapturous applause. "Thank you for letting us share this little teaser," said Stallings.
"We're going to kill them in April. Believe dat!" said Big Boi.
The world premiere of big takes place April 10-13, 2008, at the Fox Theatre, and will reportedly contain musical performances from several Purple Ribbon associates, including Big Boi and Janelle MonÃ¡e. Tickets go on sale Oct. 1.
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