This spring, Gaga — the movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company — can be seen in three distinct performances around Atlanta. While Atlanta Ballet will be remounting Naharin’s iconic Minus 16, Lauri Stalling and glo, in combination with The Goat Farm Arts Center, will be presenting the more experimental Black Velvet, an intimate performance art piece developed by former Batsheva dancer Shamel Pitts and Mirelle Martins, backstage at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall as part of Tanz Farm. Somewhere in the sublime middle, Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre lands with the world premiere of NEXT DOOR, choreographed by Danielle Agami, also a former Batsheva dancer and founder of the acclaimed Ate9 Dance Company in Los Angeles. At turns humorous and heartbreaking, all the while physically arresting, NEXT DOOR, highlights the talents of this upstart company in an entirely new way.
For a company barely a year old, TMBT has already shown remarkable growth. Founded in secret, while four of the members were still dancing principal roles with Atlanta Ballet (Christian Clark, Heath Gill, Tara Lee, and Rachel Van Buskirk) and another (John Welker) was wrapping up his undergraduate degree, the company took off at breakneck speed once their venture became public. Their fall season brought two world premieres to the Atlanta area, showcasing the choreographic talents of Lee and Gill, in addition to utilizing the site specific differences in their two homes, Westside Culture Arts Center in Atlanta and Serenbe Institute outside of the city, to the fullest. While tickets went fast, and the reviews and feedback were positive, the group decided to invite an outside choreographer in for the start of their spring season. The dancers worked with Agami previously at AB (on Minus 16 the first time it premiered in Atlanta) and were blown away by Ate9 performances, so they all felt certain that she was someone they wanted to work with again. “Danielle knew us pretty well,” says Welker, “and also knew that Atlanta audiences were familiar with us. With NEXT DOOR she wanted to create something that would showcase different sides of us to our audience.”
On the day I catch an after lunch run-through, sunlight is streaming into their spacious rehearsal studio as the dancers warm up and mark partnering sequences. They are noticeably barefoot. Clark and Welker apologize in advance that they may be modifying due to stiff necks. The show will also feature Devon Joslin, as well as two guest artists that Agami selected and who will be joining them the following week for rehearsals in New York City with her. The piece begins with a crash and I immediately understand the neck issues. But I never detect any holding back. A duet that seems to explore dynamics of power, the body, intimacy gives way to an introduction of each dancer. The phrase work is detailed, and the placement, even when off-kilter, is deliberate. It is apparent that these dancers know where their fingertips and gaze belong in any given moment. The virtuosic becomes theatrical then quixotic and comedic, before returning to more abstract, transcendent movement. The roughly 50-minute work has me completely captivated and it passes all too quickly.
Afterward, I am curious about how they run rehearsals when they are all dancing. “We all watch each other from the side and give notes as we see them,” says Van Buskirk. Clark nods, “We aren’t sensitive because we are all trying to make each other better.” For this particular piece, sometimes they divide into two for the group sections, guys and gals, in order to clean as much as possible. And then of course, there is the upcoming trip to NYC to do final rehearsals with Agami. “Danielle really likes to mix it up,” says Gill, “so all of this might change.” They all laugh. For a group set on overthrowing the status quo in ballet and making their own way in the Atlanta dance scene, it seems fitting that they would all be happily anticipating such uncertainty. And Gaga technique, which they have been practicing, is all about sense and imagination, being present, and finding freedom and pleasure in the moment. For Lee, who is also about to premiere a short ballet on the same AB bill as Minus 16, Gaga has helped her dive deeper into her own movement language. “In ballet things are pretty black and white. For better or worse, there is a right and wrong,” explains Lee. “But Gaga has really helped me explore the gray areas more.”
| NEXT DOOR |
March 30th 8 p.m., March 31st 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
Kennesaw State University Dance Theater, $30 ($15 students)
Click Here for tickets.