Last summer, Lauri Stallings’ collaborative performance group gloATL surged across the Woodruff Arts Center’s Sifly Piazza with the multimedia, site-specific “rapt.” In the fall, Stallings’ “pour” swept through the back alleys of Castleberry Hill in Le Flash-Atlanta. This Thursday evening (Dec. 10) at 8 p.m., “crea,” gloATL’s third site-specific work in Atlanta, will fill the High Museum of Art’s Robinson Atrium with a quieter, more intimate blend of live music and dance. Here’s a link for tickets.
In “crea,” Stallings collaborates with a group of musicians from Georgia Tech’s contemporary music ensemble, Sonic Generator, led by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s principal percussionist, Thomas Sherwood. Alliance Theatre vocalist Nicole Long will join the chamber ensemble.
There’s been a trend toward live music and dance performances in art museums. For more than 15 years, New York has seen the “Works and Process at the Guggenheim” performance series. And recently, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago partnered with the Art Institute of Chicago in the program “500 Ways of Looking at Modernism.” The Woodruff Arts Center links the Stallings/Sherwood collaboration with the Leonardo da Vinci “Hand of the Genius” exhibit through the idea of “the human body as instrument.” For the Woodruff, it’s a chance to bring three branches of the arts center under one roof for one evening.
But Stallings and Sherwood have long wanted to combine live music and dance in a setting as intimate as the Robinson Atrium. Both Atlanta-based artists believe such collaborations are too rare in this city. Both work from a classical base, and the program reflects mutual interest in works by Minimalist composers Steve Reich, David Lang, Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass as well as compositions by Marc Mellitis and Belinda Reynolds. In the future, Stallings and Sherwood hope to compose both dance and music in tandem.
On collaborating with live musicians, Stallings observed, “As dancers, we understand what it is to travel, to leap. They [musicians] sonically understand what it is to move. Their language — the sound they make with their instrument — is traveling through space. We understand that the instrument we are is traveling through space.”
As with her previous site-specific works, each location poses unique challenges and takes extra time to find the specific dance that belongs there. “When the work can ‘bleed’ out of the space in this organic way,” Stallings explained, “then the onlookers and artists sense that energy, and they start morphing and softening…. And then anything can happen.”
Initially, Stallings says she felt little in common with architect Richard Meier’s singular-themed architecture — its pervasive use of white, of glass, and of the slick, white exterior panels. But after spending time in the atrium, Stallings noticed how natural light coming in was constantly shifting. In keeping with Meier’s design, Bruce Harlan’s lighting for “crea” will shine through the windows from outside of the building.
Like previous spaces in which she’s made dances, Stallings perceives the atrium as a kind of “bowl,” and thus the performance will be in the round, to be viewed from any vantage point including the atrium’s upper levels. Stallings sensed that the room “just vacuums you straight up in a really wonderful way.” Though her recent contemporary choreography has pushed outward horizontally, the atrium invites classical ballet’s quality of rising through the vertical dimension.
Meier’s aesthetic ties in marvelously with Stallings’ deep appreciation of the Gaga movement system. Recently, Stallings wrote of Meier’s question, “What is it that makes a space a place?” Meier’s answer, according to Stallings: “Factors which encourage fantasy and play, factors that encourage ecstatic exuberance, those which facilitate spontaneous exchanges, and factors that affirm people’s identity.”
After Thursday’s premiere of “crea,” Stallings will prepare for a spring season of new creations, with commissions from River North Dance Chicago, Ballet Nouveau Colorado, Ballet Augsburg and Ballet British Columbia. Offered a White Oak residency by Baryshnikov, Stallings will create an evening-length gloATL work to premiere at New York’s DUO Multicultural Arts Center in June. Next summer, gloATL will present a new site-specific work on the Woodruff Arts Center campus.