For Lauri Stallings’ gloATL dance troupe, “gaga” is a verb — an energized way of moving with subtle body awareness. Last Friday and Saturday evenings, 22 dancers gaga-ed through the Woodruff Arts Center’s ivy gardens and across its grassy lawn. Capricious electric currents seemed to zip though their bodies, looping and darting through the air. The lithe figures looked like curious travelers from another world — different, yet startlingly human. A gloinstallation.
The premiere of “Roem” marked one year since gloATL’s Atlanta debut with “rapt,” a site-specific multimedia work that broke new ground on the Woodruff campus. Since then, Stallings has created 11 new commissions. Five, including “Roem,” were full-length premieres in Atlanta, a clear indication of her commitment to her home city. “Roem” rounds off Stallings’ list of world premieres this past season to an even dozen — a staggering output by any standard. (Photos of “Roem” by Greg Mooney.)
So if “Roem” was of less consequence than other gloATL works — last fall’s “pour,” performed at Le Flash-Atlanta in Castleberry Hill, was the most compelling — it’s of little concern. This hour-long series of nine sections lacked cohesion at times, due to its loose, episodic structure and partial reliance on improvisation, especially near the end. But clearly, this group of six gloATL members and 16 workshop participants coalesced into a dynamic moving body with unified intent as Stallings again expanded her artistic vocabulary. Aided by gaga technique, the ensemble moved through strenuous level changes and daring partnering configurations with deceptive coolness and ease.
More than a thousand people gathered on the hot, humid Saturday evening for the free event, which spanned from Sifly Piazza to the corner of 16th and Peachtree Streets. Buildings, piazza and lawn became performance spaces; between sections of choreography, dancers migrated from one area to another as the audience followed, competing for vantage points. After dark, lighting designer Ryan O’Gara illuminated the grounds in turquoise, violet, fuscia and gold. Project designer and filmmaker Adam Larsen animated the High Museum of Arts’ white walls with huge images, nearly five stories high, yet softly disarming.
While “rapt” came on with a rush of newness, “Roem” felt more grounded — as if gloATL was settling in to its home, musing on its architecture. In a prologue by guest choreographer Ivan Pulinkala, Toni Doctor Jenkins slowly walked the long ramp extending from the High’s entrance toward Peachtree Street. On the nearby grassy slope, elegant and fluid, Jenkins reached toward the sky, dropped into the grass and rose, settling into subtly articulated, angular sculptural shapes.
To a live percussion ensemble’s earthy pulse, Sarah Hilmer’s standout solo embodied the stable, steep angles, the thin, graceful arms and the mobile, rounded blades of Alexander Calder’s kinetic sculpture “Three Up, Three Down.” Hilmer loped across the grassy slope toward the ensemble, costumed by April McCoy in shades of burnt orange, copper, coral and pink that seemed to spring from Calder’s sculpture as well. Movement related to the ground and surrounding sights — open, splayed, with leaps and rolls on the grass.
Up on the piazza, a bird-like Virginia Coleman rose timidly from her nest as the audience encircled her. Gathering strength, she ascended a two-story ladder, halting breathlessly at its peak. Dancers clustered below, mouths pulled open expectantly, like hungry baby birds. Striking also was Nicole Johnson’s solo, “Roem,” to piano music by Chopin, staged in a shallow canal between the High and the Memorial Arts Building. During this quiet solo, the High’s walls glowed with images of Johnson dancing. Movement rippled across the building’s tiles like a melody across a piano’s keys.
Down on the ground, Johnson slid through the water like a bird skidding down onto a pond’s surface. As she splashed, slid and backstroked freely, this heart of the evening’s work felt like a safe return home. In keeping with “rapt,” “Roem” concluded with a dance party on the lawn. On the building faces, dozens of hands reached upward, expectantly. Stallings pulled her father from his chair into the dancing crowd. Johnson reached out to me. Boundaries erased. Pure joy.
There’s something extraordinary about Stallings choosing Atlanta as her home base, and about the city’s support for her troupe. This fall, gloATL will make its Joyce SoHo debut in New York and will return to the Duo Theater there, among other commissions. And in Atlanta, Stallings plans to help coordinate Luminocity, a proposed grand-scale spectacle of light, music, aerial dance and choreography.