On a calm summer evening in late August, I took a drive out to Palmetto, Georgia, headed towards Serenbe Playhouse. I’d never been there and didn’t know what to expect. But sooner or later, I cruised into a picturesque little village south of Atlanta proper, and ambled along cobblestone streets and dirt roads amidst horse pens and paddocks. I thought surely I must have made a wrong turn. This wasn’t like any other playhouse I’d ever been to. Where’s the marquee? Where are the lights? The rude valet? Then I passed a lawn sign “Serenbe Playhouse” and an arrow pointing toward a field where I saw other cars starting to park and people starting to congregate. I aimed my car that way.
I found a spot in a beautiful field and, save for the cars, a pristine pastoral landscape. Animals trotted along in paddocks, crisp fresh air filled my nose, and serenity was in the air. This is different, I thought. I followed the people towards a covered structure, and gave my name at the pop-up box office, which was really just a pleasant woman with a clipboard.
About 40 or so people were there at this point, with chairs under a beautiful covered structure dropped in this bucolic scene; a semi-dressed stone fireplace and a bunch of chairs facing a pond and a grassy area. It all felt very Zen. My fiancé and I were early to the show, so we grabbed some seats towards the front, aimed out with a view of the idyllic landscape. About ten minutes before the show was slated to start, the sky turned dark and it started to rain; so we just flipped our chairs around and they performed inside the structure – away from the landscape and truly showing the artistic dexterity of the dancers.
I remember thinking how ironic it was: these features of impermanence, transience, and imperfection that are the very essence of the Wabi Sabi Buddhist precept were in fact playing out as if scripted. A few times during the performance, the word "thunder" was mentioned in a accompanying music, and as if on cue, a crack of lightning and thunder was audible in the distance.
The first piece is still to this day one of my favorite movement pieces, and the soundtrack is nothing short of breathtaking; How to be a Person. Set to a spoken word piece of the same name by Shane Koyczan, this powerful performance featured Alexandre Barros and Jordan Leaper. Breaking bounds and making a statement, two male dancers collided in a gymnastically exuberant piece, littered with humor, and ostentatious movement. Overall, I found it to be one of the most moving pieces I have ever seen – and one lyric still jumps out at me “If your heart is broken, pick up the pieces, and make art.”
The second piece was entitled Rumination and featured Devon Joslin, who danced an acrobatic improv solo at the Ladybird on the Beltline a few weeks prior. This was more of a classical piece, in my unprofessional opinion, with hints of post-modern movement.
Fields Magnetic and Sweet Sorrow were both very moving as well, and even to my untrained eye, the subtle nuances of the relationships and their inherent complexities were visible. I can’t really tell you the difference of an alonge from an arabesque, but the control, contours, and lithe movements of all the dancers were exceptional, and athletically impressive. The emotiveness of Alexandre Barros and Rachel Van Buskirk particularly captivated me (I saw this duo perform on the Beltline as well, in an awesome piece set to a trip-hop track by Dani Siciliano), but I say that not to the discredit of any of the other performers. They were all fantastic.
They saved the most spectacular for last, Dormant Gods. Eight dancers convened with all sorts of luminous and iridescent costumes. Another spoken word piece and original composition from Jesse Tyler of Dreambrother, this particular musical piece had another lyric that struck me. (I’m paraphrasing, so if the composer is reading this, sorry, I’m going off memory).
How beautiful is that? The metaphor tied in wonderfully to the piece, with a outrageous costume design from Kevin Anderson, where dancer Kiara Felder donned a costume that transformed into a peacock.
Overall, everything from the setting to the costumes, music, and movement was exceptionally moving, and the undertones of the Wabi Sabi worldview were distinctly apparent, even to a casual ballet fan. I was so moved and energized by the performance, I wanted to introduce myself to John Welker – 22 season Atlanta Ballet veteran and the creator of Wabi Sabi; we will have an exclusive interview with him here coming soon.
If you have the chance to get out and see either Wabi Sabi, or any Atlanta Ballet production, you really should. They are doing a free show at the High Museum on November 4, and of course, the Nutcracker will be around the corner for the holiday season. Whether you are a casual fan of the arts, or an avid dance fan, go be moved by movement, I implore you.