I love rock and roll (put another dime in the jukebox, baby.) In the last month, I’ve seen some fantastic rockabilly at the Caroline & the Ramblers CD release show, with the always-amazing Billygoats. I had my camera destroyed by a decapitated head at an Alice Cooper tribute show. I was one of only a handful of lucky people at the Earl that got to see the rich-yet-twee Lucy Dreams do their final performance. So when I finally had time to transfer everything from the camera to the computer and put together a review the choice was obvious – weird dance and opera amidst an outdoor art installation.
I have always hated the “art” installation that is 54 Columns at Freedom Park. As the name subtly implies, there are 54 columns, initially of unpainted concrete blocks, spread through the park in a layout meant to evoke images of a cityscape. The columns became targets for graffiti, as well as a hang out for drug dealers and prostitutes. Someone once painted them all pink, making them at least comical phallic symbols. These days, they are whitewashed and the grass is being maintained to help cut down on unwanted visitors. But I still had no interest in visiting. It looks like a remnants of some unfinished building, another reminder of the mortgage crisis. However, She Who Shall Not Be Named is a big fan of gloATL, so we trekked across town to catch their free performance with Atlanta Opera at the site of the installation.
Just before things got going, a guy came around and told us to move into the park proper, rather than lurking on the sidewalk. With little fanfare, the show began.
Their costumes echoed the white columns. Sometimes one or more would stand close facing the columns as if being punished. Sometimes the dancers made peculiar motions as they stood against these structures. Other performers hid behind the posts while other dancers moved amongst the columns and crowd.
But “dancing” doesn’t seem to be the right word to describe what went on. Their movements were often not timed to any music. They seemed to have taken cues from footage of movies being rewound. Jerky, strange, but intriguing.
Seemingly at random, one or more singers from Atlanta Opera would burst into song. I am not well schooled in the genre by any means, but I know an amazing singer when I hear one – especially from a foot away. And last Friday I heard several. During one “act” the singer followed a group of dancers as they performed, winding their way through the columns and the crowd.
Their movements seemed to mimic birds, groups of animals, or the occasional riot. As the sun set, the shadows themselves became part of the visual presentation. Seriously cool.
After a constantly-moving show of an hour or more, the dancers joined to stare at a column in the back of the group (I half expected one of them to toss a bone into the air) before splitting off one by one to lead the opera singers away (or was it vice versa?)
There were a lot of things to like about the performance. Being up close and personal to the dancers gave me a greater appreciation for their work, and a much better feel for some of the tiny movements you couldn’t catch in a theatre. Following them around the space made me feel like part of the show. Having gloATL’s strange choreography paired with very traditional-sounding opera made each seem stronger in their own right. And throwing the whole thing outdoors in shifting light, wind, and even threatening rain, made it seem different minute by minute, even during repetitive parts of the performers’ actions.
I was given a survey after the show which included the question, “How has this performance changed your opinion of 54 Columns?”
I wrote, “I almost don’t hate it now.” Can’t get much better than that.