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Welcome to the Hippodrome

Dance troupe gloATL plans to drench the senses with intimate world premiere

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If you wanted to get the entire city high, how would you go about it?

For artist Lauri Stallings, founder of the Atlanta-based dance company gloATL, the answer starts with its next performance. "I want to drug the entire city," she says about the intentions behind her latest work. "I want to get people high, to intoxicate them with experience."

Aiming to do just that, the new work, Hippodrome, will premiere at the Goat Farm Arts Center next weekend. It's a major collaboration between gloATL, which has become known for its site-specific performances around Atlanta; local visual artist Gyun Hur, who will design a large-scale installation for the work; contemporary music ensemble Sonic Generator; and singers from the Atlanta Opera.

The work takes its name from the word for the enormous, oval-shaped horse-and-chariot racetracks of ancient Greece, but it was also used to name American movie palaces and grand theaters in the early 20th century, a time when theater-builders harked back to the traditions of ancient Greece, ambitiously naming their new buildings Hippodromes, Odeons, and Atheneums. It is both types of Hippodrome — shared urban gathering spaces for performers and spectators — which interest Stallings.

For the performance, the Goodson Yard warehouse building at the Goat Farm will house a large track — a circular ring covered in live grass and flowers that is envisioned as a shared space between the public and performers. Sonic Generator and members of the Atlanta Opera will perform the haunting, layered, meditative music of contemporary Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Pärt. The floor of the Hippodrome, where the dance takes place, will be covered in the crushed silk flowers often used in the work of Hur.

"For some reason, when you take dance out onto the streets, into the public, everybody equates it as a spectacle," Stallings says about the origins of the new work, which seeks to incubate a sense of intimacy between the performers and audience in the evocative 100-year-old warehouse. "No matter how intimate it is, for some reason, dance is viewed as spectacle in public spaces. It's quite a challenge because I'm interested in finding the magnitude of that experience that's private, yet public."

Tickets for most of the performances start at $10, but the final performance on March 25 includes a bit of gastronomic intoxication: food and drink courtesy of Darren Carr and his culinary team at TOP FLR restaurant. Tickets for that performance are priced at $100. "When you're experiencing our work, you feel things and you hear things and have sensations, but I've actually never put anything on your tongue and I've never put anything up to your nose," Stallings says. "I thought it was important, as we kept getting into the interior, to find ways to involve the tongue while you're experiencing Hippodrome. You are immersed in spring. I'm putting you in a vacuum of a space you can't see into when you walk in and you can't see out of until we say go."

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