Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Get up, stand up: gloATL's Roem

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 6:21 PM

Toni Doctor Jenkins performing Prologue: Turf
  • Tara-Lynne Pixley
  • Toni Doctor Jenkins performing "Prologue: Turf"
It was unclear exactly which spot on the Woodruff Art Center campus would offer the best view of gloATL's season-ending performance of Roem Saturday night. Ushers advised that the dancing would start on the main lawn in front of the museum and work its way back around to the plaza courtyard. People set up their lawn chairs, yoga mats, blankets, etc. to claim what they deemed the most comfortable, strategically chosen spots. But if there's one thing Lauri Stallings and her gloATL dancers have tried to impart on their viewing public from day one, it's active participation.

The show began on the lawn in front of the museum and did so with hardly any notice. For "Prologue: Turf," the statuesque and affecting Toni Doctor Jenkins sprang about solo in the grass. People on the hill above craned their necks searching for the action; some of the crowd slowly began to trickle down for a better view. A break followed Jenkins' slow exit in reverse up the concrete ramp and folks got a little shifty. Should I move back to my spot? Should I stay here? Should I move further in? many of their faces seemed to say.

But as dancers drifted in from around corners, behind trees, and (fearlessly!) across intersections onto the lawn and then launched into the pounding, tribal pulsing of "Blades of Grass," there was no longer any question about where to be.

gloATL dancers perform in Roem
  • Tara-Lynne Pixley
  • gloATL dancers perform in 'Roem'
And just as soon as a human wall five or so people deep had built up around the dancers, they scattered, running at full speed into the crowd almost blindly. The rest of the performance would build on this tension, this come-close-back-off push and pull, until the dancers and the crowd became a kind of living, breathing (sweating) organism.

How appropriate for Roem, a work that figuratively spans from the first microorganism and the Big Bang to Big Boi (this is Stallings' world after all). The movements of the gloATL dancers have a sort of primal elegance, a balletic herky-jerkiness that bursts with athleticism and emotion. But for all its compelling choreography, part of the brilliance rests in the space left for the dancers to improvise. Hypnotized by Jenkins, a toddler wandered out into the grass to get a closer look. Jenkins let down her hand and moved around her inviting the little girl to dance, which she could barely do for all of the wonder that had come over her.

As the sun set, the gloATL team made use of the vast white expanses of the museum's exterior walls with projections: long bare legs traversed the surfaces, wild animals grazed, and fireworks exploded. Nicole Johnson thrashed and splashed in a long shallow trough of water for the work's title piece, "Roem," in what turned out to be particularly brilliant planning on her part that hot, humid evening. Roem concluded with a full-on dance party as Outkast and Louis Armstrong blared across the plaza and dancers pulled onlookers in to celebrate.

With gloATL, Stallings practically seems to hold her audiences as accountable as her performers, and that we should thank her for.

See a full gallery of Saturday's performance of Roem.

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