ArtsATL > Dance > Preview: Atlanta Ballet’s Wabi Sabi returns for its annual outdoor showcase at botanical garden

Preview: Atlanta Ballet’s Wabi Sabi returns for its annual outdoor showcase at botanical garden

Wabi Sabi's Brandon Nguyen and Kiara Felder. (Photos by Jonah Hooper)
Wabi Sabi's Brandon Nguyen and Kiara Felder. (Photos by Jonah Hooper)
Wabi Sabi’s Brandon Nguyen and Kiara Felder. (Photos by Jonah Hooper)

If dancing in a garden sounds like a pastoral kind of thing, you don’t know choreographer Robert Dekkers. His new work, Yours Is Mine, which receives its Atlanta premiere at the High Museum August 22 and 29, explores not the frolics of nymphs and naiads but “the nebulous area between aggression, camaraderie and sexuality.” It’s one of eight works being presented in three outdoor venues this summer by Atlanta Ballet’s Wabi Sabi, Atlanta’s chamber-sized contemporary ballet company. 

Just ten minutes long, Yours Is Mine is extremely difficult physically, Dekkers explains by phone from his home in San Francisco. “I didn’t mean it to be, it just happened that way,” he says. “There’s lots of jumping and falling and throwing and catching. It’s very tribal and not balletic by any means.” 

It’s not PG either. The original score by Philadelphia composer Jonathan Pfeffer has “a modern, urban feel and the vocals, provided by two MCs [rappers], include cuss words. I sometimes forget that you are not allowed to cuss,” he adds, with what sounds like a mischievous grin. “At least I gave the dancers clothing. I don’t always do that.” 

Jackie Nash soars above the Atlanta skyline.
Jackie Nash soars above the Atlanta skyline.

Once described as a “mad genius,” bad-boy Dekkers is no stranger to metro Atlanta: he was born and raised in Loganville, attended Gwinnett High School and was a student at Atlanta Ballet’s Centre for Dance Education in the 1990s. He danced with Gwinnett Ballet Theatre before moving to Phoenix to join Ballet Arizona. He later performed with several ballet and modern troupes. Now based in San Francisco, he is artistic director of his own company, Post:Ballet, and resident choreographer with Diablo Ballet. He was recently named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch.” 

Dekkers has maintained some Atlanta ties, most notably with John Welker, 38, Wabi Sabi’s founder and artistic director. Welker was an Atlanta Ballet company member when Dekkers, now 30, was still a student. 

Welker remembers when Dekkers was cast as a Lost Boy in Atlanta Ballet’s Peter Pan. “He’s come so far,” Welker says. “I am really impressed. He’s created a piece that’s pretty remarkable and completely different from anything else in the Wabi Sabi rep. I can’t wait to see it. I am giddy about it.” 

He’s even giddier about the fact that Atlanta’s high-tech chamber music ensemble, Sonic Generator, will play the score live when Yours Is Mine is performed at the High Museum’s Sifly Piazza on August 22 and 29. Both performances are free. 

Wabi Sabi is a pick-up ensemble composed of Atlanta Ballet dancers and supported in many ways by the main company. Some Atlanta Ballet dancers take summer jobs teaching or performing elsewhere during the company’s summer hiatus. Those who want to keep dancing in town can audition for Wabi Sabi’s brief season.

This year, Christian Clark is one of them. Dekkers remembers taking class with Clark at the company’s school. “I knew his mother well,” he says, recalling how mothers often wait for their kids while they are taking ballet class. Clark is now an established member of Atlanta Ballet. Dekkers chose him as one of the four dancers in Yours Is Mine. “I was really excited about working with him, reestablishing that old friendship.”

Unlike Wabi Sabi’s first season in 2011, which showcased choreography by Atlanta Ballet dancers such as Tara Lee, this season features dance makers from across North America, including Brooklyn’s John Heginbotham. His Angel’s Share is a “very whimsical piece, light and subtle like the music. It washes over you, real easy,” Welker says. (Heginbotham’s choreography was seen earlier this year in Off the Edge at the Rialto Center for the Arts.)

Also on this season’s program are works by choreographers from North Carolina (Gretchen Alterowitz), Washington, D.C. (Diane Coburn Bruning), Seattle (Benny Royce Runyon) and Canada (Heather Myers). Dances by John McFall, Atlanta Ballet’s artistic director, and Ivan Pulinkala, chair of the Department of Dance at Kennesaw State University, complete the lineup. The troupe will make it’s Atlanta debut this season at the Atlanta Botanical Garden August 21, with another performance September 18.

Wabi Sabi performed at the Lancaster Music Festival in July and the Sautee Nacoochee Center on August 2. The Lancaster performance featured all live music, a luxury in today’s dance world. “We are trying to be more conscientious about our repertory and music choices so we can perform to live music more often,” says Welker. He also hopes to expand the Georgia season next year and to tour outside the state. “We are in a growing spurt right now. It’s a lot of work but it’s a good problem to have.”

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