My response when I was told by security that I couldn’t bring my umbrella in and then by the ticket person that if I leave to put it in my car that I cannot come back in was an angry proclamation that “This place is bullshit!” It was rude and, although I stand by the sentiment, I regret the tone. However, it did get the attention of someone who pointed out to the security person that the smaller kind of umbrella that I was carrying was fine. I was already frustrated from getting lost trying to find the place,1 but even if I wasn’t frustrated then I’d still feel that this wasn’t the best way to greet new patrons to a new arts center. The least that they could do is put the ticket scanner person on the other side of security. I mean, this is suburban Atlanta: you are going to have a lot of people with concealed carry permits coming there and there will definitely be a few who aren’t going to know in advance that they can’t carry there and aren’t going to be terribly happy about the idea of having to check their (not very inexpensive) weapons. Let people at least have a chance to drop their unapproved items back in their cars before you refuse to readmit them. Or, even better, drop the security theater: the moment that I walked through it I noticed two different ways that I could have smuggled contraband and even other people in without much trouble. I spend a lot of time in theaters and auditoria and this and the Fox are the only two places that do this.
Here's a rather lengthy discussion of my thoughts on the venue, if you're interested
Inside, the facilities aren’t bad but also not that great. To get an idea of the lobby, think of a smaller Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center with the build quality of one of the newer high-school venues. There’s a giant glass wall at the entrance and then three levels, one above the street and one below. The mezzanine is on street level, orchestra is below that, and then an upper balcony above it. The signage isn’t very good and doesn’t match what was on my ticket so I had a hard time figuring out where to go in. I had a seat on the mezzanine, which they call a loge on their tickets even though it’s clearly not one. I don’t remember what the doors were labeled, but if I hadn’t seen the Orchestra level seating labeled Orchestra when going to the restroom on the lower level then I’d probably have tried more than just the two doors that I did. They would benefit from giving them portal labels and printing those on the tickets the way that the Cobb Energy Center does. The people were helpful, though, so if you aren’t sure where to go then just find someone. (It is worth mentioning, though, that the box office was selling balcony tickets even though the balcony was closed, which caused some commotion. Between that and my umbrella incident, I’m not sure that management is communicating well with the various people working there.)
The auditorium is decent. It’s like an upgraded Rialto Center for the Arts (which does have a real loge but doesn’t call it that) and the stage is appropriate for the same sized acts that they have there. The non-box seating on all three levels is all comfortably between the sides of the proscenium and none of them look to have a bad view. I didn’t see the balcony, but I’m assuming it is terraced like the mezzanine is. The orchestra level starts terracing around row 9 or so, which I assume would be row I. The sound system is pretty big and impressive and they look to have a well designed catwalk with plenty of mounting poles across the ceiling and along the walls and the fronts of the mezzanine and balcony. The acoustics were good from my seat, but that’s not saying much given where it was in relation to the stage. It looks like someone actually thought about the design of the auditorium, though, and it’s not very big so I suspect that it’s pretty good all around.
Visually, it looks like it’ll look dated and in need of repair very soon; lot’s of wood paneling and everything that I touched felt kind of cheap. Also, the curvature of the sound paneling above the stage and the sides of the proscenium kind of made the stage look further away than it was when the lights were on, detracting a bit from the sense of intimacy you get at places like the Rialto. Also, there are multiple green-lit exit signs on every level just to the sides of the stage and the aisles are lit in white lights. Generally, one hopes to see red lights for both purposes since that color doesn’t interfere with people’s ability to see in low light. While it was not bright enough to shine onto the stage and wasn’t horribly distracting from where I was sitting, it was enough that it might make it harder to see a production with low lighting levels.
But, despite all of that, the seats are comfortable for now and it was a good place to watch a dance concert. The stage seems to have an orchestra pit with a lift, which was up for this performance. For this performance, there were footlights placed at the edge of where the pit intersects the stage because they had monitors along the foot of the stage. It seems a bit better prepared for concerts and plays that require a sound system than for anything that’s not amplified, but that doesn’t mean that it was bad for the purposes of this performance. Overall, it seems like a decent place and I think it will serve the people in and around Sandy Springs well.
The Performing Arts Center, unfortunately, uses Encore Atlanta for its programs. As such, it wasn’t until I got home and looked it up that I found out that the name of the piece that I watched was Horses in the Sky and that the choreography as well as the stage, costume, and lighting design was all by artistic director Rami Be’er. He also did the sound editing, but I wasn’t able to find out much of the source material with the exception of the song from which the piece got its name, Horses in the Sky by *deep breath* Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band. The song appears in the show twice, once with the lyrics read as a poem about midway through and then, closer to the end, the song itself is played.
The stage design was fairly simple: there were no set pieces but there were three hanging poles of lights and foot lights. The costumes were white or various degrees of off white and were basically shorts and shirts that looked like comfortable clothing worn for an evening in watching television with a frozen pizza. The music was…not to my tastes. Much of it sounded like the kind of industrial electronica you’d hear in lower budget horror movies in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I’m not entirely sure how much of it was developed for the show, but the choreography seemed fairly heavily responsive to it.
Stylistically, the choreography looked like a collaboration between the biggest fans of Bosch and Naharin with a some of Graham’s influence showing through here and there. There were rarely more than two or three movement phrases occurring at the same time on the stage and Be’er seemed to like having big groups of dancers doing the exact same set of movements in the exact same orientation. Sometimes this was elegant and others it seemed a bit simplistic. Even though it wasn’t that rich, it was sometimes hard to decide where to focus: a duo doing something might have looked like the intended focus but the block of dancers behind them or off to the side drew more attention. Part of this may have been the quality of the ensemble work: these dancers move together as an ensemble better than nearly any that I’ve seen in Atlanta.
As I mentioned, there were no real credits or notes about the piece in the program and I found myself wishing that I had some kind of context to put what I was watching into. What I found online didn’t help much, though, so I’m not sure that there was a coherent idea behind the piece. If I had to give it a framework, it seemed to be about living in war. There was a lot of fear, vulnerability, and despair throughout, though it was strongest in the beginning. There seemed to be a lot of death and reaction to death. Moving on, it seemed to be more about living life, perhaps with violence in the background: recovery, coping, and finding ways to live and laugh despite the hardships. It’s hard to say for sure, though, and, like I said, I’m not sure that Be’er had a fully coherent vision for this piece. The beginning seemed much more like a coherent whole but by the end it seemed like a series of separate pieces that had been fit together to create an evening-length work.
Overall, it was decent. I felt that the dancers’ performances were better than the actual choreography and I found that what I enjoyed most about the evening was watching them and not so much the encounter with Be’er’s art. That said, I think that Be’er had some interesting aesthetic ideas and I’d be curious to see more of his work. And I’d definitely love to see those dancers perform together again.
1. What the hell is wrong with Johnson Ferry Rd? How is that street even supposed to work? Why are there two of them with a matching pair of Glenridge Drives? I mean, were there two people named Johnson who ran ferry services on two rivers in what is now Sandy Springs? I was trying to avoid the GA-400/I-285 interchange and took the Glenridge Connector and ended up very confused. I try not to use a GPS in the metro area but I had to pull over and set the address in one to find my way. back