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Destiny's dancers

Beckham and Overton perform Farewell Rituals


To watch Blake Beckham dance is to see the forms of fate in motion. Her body speaks with the dual authorities of gravity and light. She is as resolute as a live oak, as agile as kudzu climbing up a pine. When Beckham dances, she is ... inevitable.

I suppose, if the choreography should call for it, she could settle into her hips, wobble on uncertain ankles, throw her chest too far forward. Maybe ... maybe she could contrive some pose to make her strong arms look delicate and merely pretty. I've never seen anyone ask this of her. Who wants a young priestess to hoof a cabaret?

Since graduating from the Emory Dance Program in 2001, Beckham has been a prolific choreographer and has performed for most of the major modern dance companies in Atlanta, always with a kinesthetic assurance that is shocking in a dancer so new to the professional scene.

Some of us dared to hope that she might stick around. Fate, it seems, has other plans.

Beckham is leaving us for Ohio. Seems Ohio State University has lured her away with a fellowship. She'll be earning a master of fine arts degree in choreography. Here's hoping those Great Lakes winters and that gelatin-heavy cuisine have her migrating back our way once she's done with her studies.

For now, all we can do is wish her well and send her on her way ... after one last show. Beckham performs Farewell Rituals July 17 at Eyedrum in collaboration with Adam Overton, an Atlanta pioneer in real-time electronic music and sound sculpture. A Georgia native, Overton is also leaving Atlanta, to study integrated media at the California Institute of the Arts.

Farewell Rituals is an homage to the people of the Atlanta dance and music scenes, a reflection on artistic and personal evolution, a meditation on honoring and releasing, losing and leaving. The work includes a mixed-media installation, sound sculpture, poetry, performance art and dance.

In the days leading up to the performance, Beckham and Overton are each spending time in a small room off the main gallery at Eyedrum. There they are drawing, painting and sculpting the walls with memories and reflections on their time in Atlanta. During Farewell Rituals, Overton will spend the entire show meditating in this room with electronic probes affixed to his body. A video camera will pipe his image into the performance space, where pre-programmed algorithms will process his real-time biorhythms and use the results to "crush" a looped recorded reading of a poem. (The meditation room remains on exhibit through Aug. 8.)

In the main space, Beckham will perform a large collection of short solos, all of them contemplations on the process of departing. Several of the solos contain movement contributed by the professors, choreographers and dancers who had the greatest influence on her.

These solo works are some of Beckham's most sophisticated work to date. Her movement vocabulary is notably richer and rhythmically more dynamic. The questions she poses are complicated and profound, but her language is clear and lyric. "I find myself drawn to big questions," Beckham says, "and then working them down to the human level."

Beckham will dance without a stage, moving about the space and among the audience with no regard for presentational boundaries. Beckham and Overton see the evening as an actual ritual, not just a performance of ritual forms. The movement, Beckham says, "connects us as human beings." The result is an intimate and profound experience, a loving gift, and solace for our loss.



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