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Preview: Lauri Stallings and gloATL prepare "Chapter III," revealing the bare truth

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GloATL has no more safety nets. As dance-maker Lauri Stallings prepares “Chapter III: This Is a World,” her collaborative performance group is taking greater risks, but not by ambushing a crowded mall or infiltrating a city park. These are more personal, creative risks, taken within the confines of a refuge, den or nest. They’ll reveal this intimate subject matter on a stage at Goodson Yard at the Goat Farm, April 28-May 1. (Click here for tickets.) Later in May, gloATL will perform the formal world premiere of “This Is a World” at New York’s Duo Theatre.

Last Saturday, gloATL dancers rehearsed with Stallings in a windowless third-floor practice room at the Woodruff Arts Center. As romantic chamber music and Minimalist piano melodies pulsed gently, the dancers made the space rich with textured motion. They moved with irregular accents, as if responding to inner emotional undercurrents. Bodies perched in asymmetrical, off-kilter poses, then whizzed and swooped through space with cryptic gestures and facial expressions layered in.

Rehearsals for gloATLs "Chapter III: This Is a World" are being held in an Alliance Theatre room.

Stallings’ intention to get to deeper sources of movement is clear in the short video “Chapter III – process-film 1.” In it, performer Mary Jane Pennington places a piece of paper on a music stand, looks directly at the camera and, as Kill Bill’s song “Bang Bang” plays over, opens her mouth but struggles to speak.

“It’s not a matter of expressing certain feelings, what we want to say; it’s realizing what we can’t say … through movement or words,” Stallings later explained. As they’ve incubated movement in the studio, the gloATL dancers have logged personal questions on paper, questions they feel uncomfortable asking or that can’t be said out loud. They’ll perform with a script and microphone, and the paper will serve as a catalyst, Stallings explained. This is part of a daring move that asks the artists to peel away layers, to expose themselves with physical and personal vulnerability, to discover a “nakedness to get to the truth.”

The video shows snippets of situations. Nicole Johnson’s solo picks up on the song’s story. A woman remembers childhood games in which her 6-year-old boy playmate shot her down again and again. Nicholas Goodly holds Mary Remy against her will and repeatedly lifts her by the crotch, in a nightmarish struggle. Virginia Coleman runs helplessly in place, arms flailing, while an anonymous cluster of people look the other way.

Stallings explained how her recently spending several weeks in Liguria, Italy, on a Bogliasco Fellowship challenged her point of view, making her realize how “safe” she’d been during the five years she’s been making dances full time. Stallings studied philosophy, with focus on the writings of surrealist playwright Antonin Artaud, Situationist leader and filmmaker Guy Debord and Nicolas Bourriaud, who has developed relational aesthetic theory.

“By the second week, I knew what I wasn’t, but I still didn’t know who I was,” Stallings recalled. As she spoke, a sense of compassion and mission welled up through her penetrating gaze, even as her eyes flashed with girlish warmth. “I realized I am utilizing movement as the operator, or conductor, of meaning and feeling. That led me to the realization that, more and more, I’m no longer creating dances. Certainly I’m intent on the thing being in a language driven by the flesh, but I’d call them situations.”

She described “Chapter III” as “a contemporary place of thought in motion.” Part of the relational aesthetic way of looking at art is within the sphere of human relations, and Stallings hopes to create “interstices,” which she describes as “aura-like places” that occur between performers and public, in which “the third thing” can appear and invite “porous, human exchange.”

As in the second-phase performance in February, a bouquet of roses will set the stage, inviting a sense of nostalgia — “that feeling … when something is left behind, either you or them.” Stallings described Bruce Harlan’s lighting designs as rays, shafts and pools of light “that seem as if they are casting their spell right from the moon. Sometimes we can see the source, sometimes we can’t.” New to gloATL, Tian Justman will design the costumes.

The finale of gloATL's "Phase 2: This Is a World" in February, with dancers Nichole Johnson and Toni Doctor-Jenkins. (Photo by Thom Baker)

Stallings has adapted a new tool that she calls “blurring.” It’s apparent in music selections by Max Richter, one of several composers featured in the performance. The choreographer described the effect: “Imagine following a string, a line, for a long time. You can’t see the end, but as you are following it, you begin making up ideas as to where it might get to, where it might take you to. Then suddenly the string ends.” Each viewer can finish the story in his or her own mind.

Stallings’ site-specific works, such as “pour,” “Bloom” and “Hinterland,” pushed audiences and performers out of their traditional roles, sometimes out of their comfort zones. She asked the public to migrate behind performers, compete for views and make choices about what they wanted to see. The gloATL dancers braved summer heat and autumn chill, as growing crowds encroached. “Chapter III” will take performers and public outside their comfort zones in a different sense, as performers take emotional risks, peel away layers and make themselves vulnerable and exposed.

GloATL is willing to dig into deeper, personal resources. The question is, are Atlantans also willing to go there?

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