This past weekend, about 200 audience members gathered in the main lobby of the High Museum to get a glimpse at something a little different than the visual art exhibits. For the first time in the company’s short history, Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre presented an evening of performances by their advanced summer intensive students as well as TMBT company members. After just one year, the company has already made quite a name for themselves, and Atlanta audiences are tripping over each other for the chance to see the supremely talented ex-Atlanta Ballet dancers take on edgier contemporary choreography.
The showcase featured 13 TMBT students, ages 15-20, in three works. The opening piece, choreographed by Heath Gill, introduced the audience to the neoclassical style of ballet. With the male dancer in all black, and the women in pointe shoes, pink tights, and black leotards and skirts, the look of the piece was certainly Balanchine-esque. Between each work, co-founder John Welker, spoke to the audience and told us a little bit about we were seeing. We traveled through time, from Balanchine to Swan Lake Act 1, as the dancers performed a classical pas de trois. Despite the occasional nerves that pinched their young faces, the students seemed at home performing in the unique space to the massive audience. Some were able to maintain a mature sense of calm throughout even the most difficult of sequences or solos, and their technical skills were well past their age.
The finale of the student works, a contemporary piece choreographed by Tara Lee, was performed in soft shoes by the 12 women and brought us back to the present time. The dancers explored angular movement and emphasized stillness and shapes. Using their technique as a base, they created beautiful lines and accented their movement along with the modern music. For the first time in the evening performance, two women moved together in a duet that utilized body contact and weight sharing. Although the dancers technically lost height without their pointe shoes, they seemed to take up more space and had a bigger presence in this work than in either of the strictly ballet pieces.
TMBT company members Rachel Van Buskirk and Christian Clark picked up where the students left off in demonstrating the power of contemporary ballet. First, Van Buskirk and Clark performed a delicate excerpt from The Vertical, compete with effortless lifts and flawless lines, only broken to create angular shapes and unique visuals. The entire piece felt like one long sigh, punctuated by gasps, such as one moment when Van Buskirk continued rotating in an arabesque turn on pointe even after Clark had let go. Unlike classical ballet, which sometimes feels like the dancers are holding their breath and pushing through the intricate footwork, this contemporary choreography, created by Tara Lee, allowed the dancers to expand their muscles and limbs and move fluidly through the sequences.
While I would describe this first duet as pretty and graceful, the final duet, also danced by Van Buskirk and Clark, felt more concrete and relatable. In Confronting Genius, choreographed by Heath Gill, the dancers moved to a combination of music and a recording of Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk on the Creative Genius. Van Buskirk and Clark acted out Gilbert’s words with gestures and balletic movement. In one particularly captivating moment, Clark lay under Van Buskirk while she sat in a chair, his finger circling her foot as if he were the master and her foot the puppet. The artists connected with each other through physical contact and weight sharing, and also with slow, gentle moments. With their backs to their audience, they sat side by side in stillness, until Clark reached around Van Buskirk and placed his hand next to her shoulder, hovering over her. Sensing his movement, she turned her head slightly to acknowledge his hand, connecting without actually touching him. They demonstrated the anxiety and torment that comes with being an artist, while also showing the audience that their own creativity and artistry was a worthwhile endeavor.
While I was expecting to see Van Buskirk’s beautiful arabesque and Clark’s strength in his jumps, I was surprised by the humor that infiltrated their movements. With a combination of miming, acting, and dancing, they made the audience laugh while also shifting in our seats, thinking about the weight of the words demonstrated on stage. A new work choreographed by Heath Gill premieres at Serenbe this October, and I’m excited to see how the artists will fill an entire evening with this combination of thought provoking and humorous material. At one point in the recording, Gilbert spoke of the dancer who becomes more than human during a performance, causing the audience to chant “Allah!” Although this audience used applause instead of chants, standing amongst the crowd at the visual arts museum, I felt as if I too had witnessed a rare form of transcendence.