Tis The Season To Be Enchanted: Atlanta Ballet’s NUTCRACKER Still Magical in its 56th Year

Posted on: Dec 20th, 2015 By:
Claire Stallman and Jonah Hooper. Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Claire Stallman and Jonah Hooper. Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

THE NUTCRACKER by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Atlanta Ballet. Fox Theatre, Dec. 11-27, Tickets here.

By Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

One of the sad truths of 2015 is the fact that it has become more and more difficult to find Atlanta traditions that have been around for longer than 20 or so years. For a city with so many beloved institutions, a good number of them have shut their doors or faded into obscurity in recent years. This is certainly not the case for the Atlanta Ballet’s annual production of THE NUTCRACKER, which is entering its 56th year of performances. One may be likely to think that the many years behind this Christmas mainstay would lead it to be stale and outdated, but the opposite could not be more true. The Atlanta Ballet’s NUTCRACKER is just as fresh and exciting as it was 56 years ago, and is a performance that should not be missed by anyone who considers themselves a true Atlantan.

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Opening night was nothing short of packed, with attendees ranging from toddlers to grandparents out in their finest Christmas garb. Simply sitting in the audience prior to showtime was an experience in and of itself: the painted backdrop hanging onstage is breathtaking in its intricacy, and the warm, intricate design of the Fox only adds to the serene atmosphere. The audience, buzzing with anticipation, began to cheer and whisper as Drosselmeyer took the stage.

Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s original score is brought to life with help from the Atlanta Ballet orchestra, and the story of a young girl and her enchanted nutcracker doll is given a slight update to help the familiar tale remain fresh and engaging. Artistic director John McFall made the choice to age up the protagonist from a pre-teen girl to a young woman, and she subsequently plays a more active role in the action surrounding her. (Many readers will recall how her defeat of the Rat King usually involves her throwing a slipper at his head. In 2015, she

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

wields a sword instead). The setting of this production, which is typically a generic European Christmas of centuries past, is now set firmly in 1850s Russia, and the beautiful, elaborate costumes of the party guests in the first act show how much time and research the set designers and costumers took in bringing McFall’s vision to life. As the story progresses, the stage is transformed into a Winter Wonderland, complete with snow for the audience, and only becomes more charming from that point on.

The performances of the dancers itself are so breathtaking that it is almost hard to put into words. Each performer, no matter how large or small the role, gives it their all, and there was not a weak link to be seen. Old favorites, such as the Trepak dancers and the Mother Matrushka, make appearances, much to the audience’s delight. The dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, as performed by Rachel Van Buskirk and Christian Clark, might just be the greatest ballet performance this writer has ever witnessed in her life. Buying tickets for THE NUTCRACKER is worth it just to see this number alone. It is seriously that good.

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

An astounding cast, intricately beautiful sets and costumes, and a unique take on a classic tale all come together perfectly in Atlanta Ballet’s 2015 production of THE NUTCRACKER. If you’re looking to experience both a piece of Atlanta history and a ballet production unlike any other, be sure to get your tickets to THE NUTCRACKER sooner than later.

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Kool Kat of the Week: From a Star-Crossed Lover to a Blood-Thirsty Vampiress, Alessa Rogers of the Atlanta Ballet, Dances Her Way into a Town of Lost Souls in Helen Pickett’s Ballet Adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real”

Posted on: Mar 18th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Alessa Rogers as Esmeralda - Camino Real - Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

Alessa Rogers as Esmeralda – CAMINO REAL – Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

Alessa Rogers, professional ballet dancer with the Atlanta Ballet, will be dancing her way into a “dead-end place in a Spanish-speaking town” in a ballet adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1953 stage-play, CAMINO REAL,  sharing the role of “Esmeralda” (a character derived from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) with fellow company dancer, Tara Lee. The world premiere of Williams’ “lost classic” of love, redemption and courage has been adapted and choreographed by Atlanta Ballet’s choreographer in residence, Helen Pickett, with sound and original score by Peter Salem (get a taste here), which will be performed live with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra. The Atlanta Ballet’s CAMINO REAL premieres this Friday, March 20, with a red carpet opening night, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, running through March 22. For ticket information and performance schedule, please click here.

Alessa is currently in her seventh season with the Atlanta Ballet, the “oldest continuously performing ballet company in the United States.” She began training with Daphne Kendall, leaving school at 14 to pursue her dancing career at the North Carolina School of the Arts, which led to her spending one season with the North Carolina Dance Theatre II before her journey to Atlanta and the Atlanta Ballet. Alessa has danced across the country having been a guest artist at the National Choreographer’s Initiative in California (See video of Alessa detailing her experience at the NCI here) and at the Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance in Asheville, NC.

Alessa has filled the dancing shoes of many strong female characters since she began her dancing career, but her favorite roles include “Juliette” in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s ROMEO ET JULIETTE; “Margaret” in the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s “The Exiled”; “Lucy” in Michael Pink’s adaptation of DRACULA; “Ophelia” in Stephen MillsHAMLET, “Lover Girl” in David Bintley’s “CARMINA BURANA; and “Princess Irene” in the world premiere of Twyla Tharp’s THE PRINCESS & THE GOBLIN.

Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

ATLRetro caught up with Alessa for a quick interview about her trek into the dancing world; fully immersing one’s self into a character; her take on Helen Pickett’s ballet adaptation of Williams’ CAMINO REAL; and the sweet, sweet smell of vampires.

And while you’re taking a peek at our little Q&A with Alessa, get a taste of her transformation into “Juliette” in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “ROMEO ET JULIETTE here, which premiered this past February.

ATLRetro: What drew you to Atlanta Ballet?

Alessa Rogers: I came to Atlanta without much forethought simply because my older sister was already here dancing with the ballet. At the time I thought it would be a transition year between my first professional contract when I was 17 (with North Carolina Dance Theater second company) and figuring out where to go next. Now that I’ve been here for nine years, I’d say it’s been quite a long and wonderful transition!

How does it feel to be a part of Atlanta Ballet founder and dance visionary, Dorothy Alexander’s dream of bringing quality ballet to Atlanta?

You know so much has changed in the dance world since Dorothy Alexander opened Atlanta Ballet over 80 years ago. And even in the nine years that I have been here we have gone from being what could be described as a regional dance company into a world-class organization that has gone on international tours and consistently brings in the world’s greatest living choreographers. So it’s been a really amazing experience to be a part of that

Maillot's Romeo et Juliette - Photo Credit: Charlie  McCullers

Maillot’s ROMEO ET JULIETTE – Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

growth and to be able to grow myself within that. I think the most gratifying part of my job is when someone who has never seen dance before comes to a show and realizes that it is completely unlike the stilted, inaccessible performance that they had anticipated. You might be surprised at how much even the most jeans and baseball-cap wearing of people can enjoy a night at the ballet. (You can even come in your jeans, by the way!)

We see that you just recently wrapped your role as Juliette in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s ROMEO ET JULIETTE. What was it like to play the part of one of the world’s most well-known literary female characters?

Juliette was the highlight of my career so far. Having so recently finished, it is hard to imagine ever having that profound an experience on stage again- but of course I have to hope that another ballet that special will come along again. To portray a character that everyone is familiar with, I actually had to throw all my preconceived ideas out the window. I had to forget everything I thought I knew and had been told about Juliette so that I could start fresh, with no one else’s interpretations in my head; and be able to discover her for myself again as if for the first time. That’s what I tried to do at least.

What was it like playing “Lucy” in Michael Pink’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA? Anything fun about that performance you’d like to share with our readers?

Lucy” was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had on stage. She is such a complex character and it is almost always more fun to be the dark character than a sweet, vapid heroine. It’s something I hope to be able to do more in the future- the villain role. In the ballet DRACULA, the blood is made from corn syrup and everything gets drenched in it; so my pointe shoes, my hair, the whole backstage smells sweet. Every time I smell corn syrup now I think – vampires.

"Lucy" in Dracula. Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

“Lucy” in DRACULA. Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

Who or what influenced you to become a dancer? Any intriguing stories about how you got started?

I saw my sister’s dance recital when I was four years old, and in it there was a piece with bumblebee costumes. I decided right then and there I had to start ballet so that I could get one. (Full disclosure: Still haven’t gotten one!) And basically since I was four years old, I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. I remember my sister and I once thinking it’d be a great idea to sleep in a split the whole night. The next day I couldn’t walk, but these are just the things we did (And we weren’t even the crazy ones!) I had lots of ideas growing up about what to do after I retired (dancers retire in their 30s generally) but I knew I’d have to be a dancer first. I don’t know that I ever made a conscious decision about the matter – it was just something I took for granted would happen.

"Esmeralda" - Camino Real - Photo Credit: Charlie  McCullers

“Esmeralda” – Camino Real – Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

If you could be any character in any ballet or adaptation that you haven’t played before, who would it be and why?

Hmm. I don’t know that I really have any dream roles, per se, though I do have a lot of choreographers whose work I would love to do: Alejandro Cerrudo, Nacho Duato, Marco Goecke, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, to name a few. My favorite roles are acting roles, so any chance I have to inhabit a character is always a fun process for me. I think you learn so much about the human experience when you put yourself into the skin of someone other than yourself. There are some great works of literature that I would love to see adapted into ballets – JANE EYRE, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, THE MISTS OF AVALON.

But actually, now that I think about it- when I was 11 or 12, I went to see the ballet THE RITE OF SPRING choreographed by Salvatore Aiello. I brought my book with me to the show because back then I was very bored by ballet. But as soon as the curtain went up everything changed. I had never seen a ballet like that before – there was nothing pretty about it; no tutus or buns or pink satin ribbons. It was raw and physical and scary and I loved it. It changed everything for me about my perception of what dance is capable of. At the end of the ballet the lead woman is stripped down to her underwear and covered in paint and is sacrificed – that’s a ballet I’d love to do!

Can you tell our readers a little (without giving too much away) about your role as “Esmeralda” in Helen Pickett’s adaptation and world premiere of Tennessee Williams’ stage-play, CAMINO REAL?

I am sharing the role of “Esmeralda” in our world premiere next week. The play is inhabited by characters from literature, like “Don Quixote” and “Casanova.” “Esmeralda” has her roots in Victor Hugo’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. She is a young gypsy girl who is held captive by her mother and is sold as a prostitute. Not a role I’ve had too much experience in playing fortunately!

Tennessee Williams’ CAMINO REAL, first performed in 1953, was one of the first American plays to break the fourth wall. Do you and the company

Tennessee Williams' "Camino Real"

Tennessee Williams’ CAMINO REAL

have anything special planned for this exciting three-day performance? Will there be additional runs?

I don’t want to give too much away, but there are a lot of firsts in this ballet. I think the audience will be surprised by a lot of what they see – many of the dancers (me included) actually have speaking roles which has been a challenge for us. There is an original score, original costumes, an original set and they are all amazing. The collaborative nature of this ballet has been so exciting. Just being in the same studio with all these talented, creative designers and artists who are working so hard (I’m pretty sure some of the production team has just been sleeping at the studio in order to get this massive ballet built.) has been so cool to watch. I just can’t wait to get into the theater and see it all come together and come to life!

Who are some of your favorite vintage and retro dancers and why?

I grew up in Charlotte (for the most part) and North Carolina Dance Theatre (NCDT) dancer Kati Hanlon was my hero. I think more than her being an amazing dancer, which she was, she was a really kind person. That affected me a lot as a young dancer – having someone who was so down-to-earth and approachable to emulate, as opposed to an icy, photo-shopped, perfect cut-out who couldn’t be bothered to smile at the clumsy kid who idolized her. Actually Kati was the lead woman in the production of THE RITE OF SPRING that I spoke of earlier. Eventually she became my teacher and then my co-worker at NCDT. It was one of my first magical stage moments the first time I shared a stage with her as a co-worker.

Nowadays, it is the people who I am surrounded by on a daily basis who inspire me the most. Atlanta Ballet dancers like Rachel Van Buskirk and Jackie Nash who can be so powerful and so soft at the same time. It’s interesting because those two have a very different style of dancing than I do. But I love to watch them and cheer them on and learn what I can from them.

What’s next for Alessa Rogers?

A show a month until our season ends in May and then guesting with the New Orleans Ballet Theater and Wabi Sabi in the summertime. I hope to be able to keep dancing until they drag me out of the studio when I’m around a hundred and then after that…I have some more plans!

Can you tell us something you’d like folks to know about you that they don’t know already?

In my spare time, I like to relax by rock climbing!

What question do you wish somebody would ask you in an interview but they never do and what’s the answer?

Q: Would you like some ice cream? And my answer? Yes, yes I do!

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ATLRetro’s Throwback to the 20th Century St. Valentine’s Day Guide – Our Top Picks for Gettin’ Comfy With Cupid, Retro-Style!

Posted on: Feb 11th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Hey all you dapper fellas and glitzy gals! Cupid got your tongue? “Be Mine”, vintage-style this year and celebrate all that is vintage and Valentine’s in Retro Atlanta! Get romantic, retro-style and see what we have in store for you on this day of love and seduction!

1. Red Hot Jazz. Get jazzy with your love tonight at the Crimson Moon, with Atlanta’s Jazz Diva, Tommie Macon (Tommie Macon & The Gentle Men) and her Evening of Jazz, Wine & Roses event! It’ll be a night of romance, tasty libations made to the little god of love, a special Valentine’s Day menu, a rose for your Valentine and sultry jazz standards!  Doors at 8 pm! Or let Kayla Taylor serenade you with her romantic jazz standards while dancing the night away with your sweetie under the dinosaurs sipping a few sexy cocktails at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX!

2. 80s All the Way.  Find your Prince (or Princess) at Vinyl this Valentine’s Day as you rock out with ATL Collective paying homage to Prince and sharing their intimate re-telling of his classic album, ‘1999’! Or rock on over to the Drunken Unicorn for their Valentine’s Formal, featuring live tunes by Smithsonian, a tribute to The Smiths and Kool Kat Joshua Longino with Andrew & the Disapyramids throwing a rockin’ beach party of love!  So, get dolled up, put on your dancin’ shoes and get down with the one who stole your heart! Doors at 9 pm! Or be a smooth operator and sail on down to Park Tavern in Piedmont Park for Lover’s Day with Yacht Rock Schooner! It’ll be an evening of smooth 70s and 80s love songs and a champagne toast, so put on your dancin’ shoes and come aboard! $15 online/$20 at the door. Doors at 7 pm! And for those about to rock, grab the rocker guy or chick in your life and get sinfully mischievous at Hottie Hawgs Smokin’ BBQ this Valentine’s Day with Sin City Atlanta delivering their rockin’ tribute to AC/DC!  

3. Deep Roots.  Get rustic and spend Valentine’s Day ‘in the round’ old-time-style at the Red Light Café, while rockin’ the roots troubadour swagger with Tommy Wommack, David Olney, Adam Klein and the swampy roots n’ blues of David Jacobs-Strain!

4. That’s Why They Call it the Blues.  Valentine’s Day got you down?  A little too jaded for your own good?  Well, jump, jive n’ wail your way to Big Tex for Valentine’s Day with the Tommy Dean TrioIt’ll be a night of blues, swing, jazz and soul standards! It’s a Rat Pack Valentine’s Day, so come on out and dance the night away! Music and dancing begins at 9 pm!

5. Shakespeare In Love & Really Retro.  Get romantically retro and take in William Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-crossed lovers and feuding families at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center! The Atlanta Ballet premieres Jean-Christophe Maillot’s alluring yet stripped down production of Romeo et Juliette, hailing all the way from Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo! The Atlanta Ballet Orchestra accompanies the beautifully choreographed masterpiece with Sergei Prokofiev’s provocative and breathtaking score! Tickets start at $20 and performance begins at 8 pm! And for all you knights in shining armor, get really retro and romantic with the royal one in your life and joust on down to Medieval Times for their Valentine’s Day Couples Package!  $99 gets you 2 admissions, a photo, Valentine’s scroll, champagne in keepsake glasses, a light up rose and 2 admissions to the dungeon!

6. Groovin’ Up Slowly.  Disco on down to Edgewood Avenue for a Valentine boogie with the one you love and your very own Romeo!  DJ Romeo Cologne that is, getting’ groovy at The Music Room on Edgewood Avenue!  Or shake a tail feather and boogie on over to The Artmore Hotel (Studio Lounge) and get groovy with Groove Centric!  $72 will get you the Tastes for Two package, which includes a bottle o’ red, dinner and chocolate truffles!   Or get funky with your Valentine at The Star Bar during their Valentine Daze event with Cousin Dan, xXgLaSsLuShXx and Miss Britta!

7. Lovin’ on the Silver Screen!  ‘Here’s looking at you kid!’ Take a peek at love and romance Old Hollywood-style at The Strand Theater as they screen Michael Curtiz’s classic romantic drama, CASABLANCA (1942), starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Enjoy a few cocktails during cocktail hour with your dapper fella or glamorous gal at Rick’s Café Americain, set up in the lobby & lounge, open at 7 pm and throughout the film!

8. Be Mine, Pop Culture-StyleGrab your beloved bestie and even the kiddies for a dinner fit for a king at Pallookaville Fine Foods in Avondale Estates! A king of pop culture and classic monsters, that is! They’ve got monsters and circus freaks and retro-themed food, oh my!  So, you won’t want to miss their Valentine’s Day Feast running through Feb. 16, which includes the essential dinner of love, a ‘la Lady & The Tramp-style, Spaghetti & Meatballs and the fixins followed by chocolate-covered strawberries!  Adults $18, Kiddies $10!

9. We Goth You Covered.  For the darkly romantic, The Oakland Cemetery offers their Love Stories Tour, complete with tales of loves past led by a Victorian-era clad docent.  Tours last an hour, just long enough to meet a kindred spirit or even a new love! Get loved to death while traversing the land of passionate souls longing for love, beginning at 5 pm! $10 adults/$5 students! Or let the blood-letting begin as the Prince of Darkness rocks you while draining your veins at the Dracula: The Rock Opera CD Release Party & Concert with The Little Five Points Rockstar Orchestra, at 7 Stages running through Feb. 15! Or for a Valentine’s Eve (Feb. 13) event, get romantically massacred at  Mary’s for their ‘Goth Nite St. Valentine’s Massacre’ event! It’ll be a Goth throw down featuring classic Goth rock, synth pop, post-punk and even tunes from the New Romantic era!  And, bring a personalized Goth Valentine’s card to score some free swag! And for all you Tim Burton and bleeding heart lovers, get gothic and dress as your favorite Burton character at Jungle Atlanta during their Burton Valentine’s Ball!  It’ll be a night of Burlesque, aerial performances and all things dark and morbidly fantastique! Headlining burlesque performance by Vita DeVoid, dressed as Sally from A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, venders including our swanky BFF artist and vintage vending gal, Jezebel Blue, and so much more! Best costume wins $100! $10 cover before midnight!

10. My Mischievous Valentine!  Get a little naughty this Valentine’s Day with your lovely at Paris On Ponce for their 6th annual Valentine’s Day Show, featuring Burlesque, comedy, female impersonators and a saucy, adult entertainment and atmosphere!  Performances by Raquell Lord, Maya Montana, Coco Couture, Alicia Kelly, Angelica D’Paige, Smoking McQueen, Carmen Corazon and so much more! $45 general. $215 for an up-front for four table including wine/champagne, chocolates and cupcakes!

Category: Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tis The Season for a Love Bite: 10 Tantalizing and Terrifying Reasons to Take Your Valentine to the Atlanta Ballet’s DRACULA

Posted on: Feb 11th, 2013 By:

L-R: Mina (Nadia Mara), Dracula (John Welker) and Lucy (Rachel Van Buskirk) in the Atlanta Ballet's production of Michael Pink's DRACULA. Photo credit: Charlie McCullers.

Last Friday night, ATLRetro had the phantasmagoric pleasure of experiencing the Atlanta Ballet‘s production of Michael Pink’s DRACULA, which plays through Feb. 16 at Cobb Energy Centre. The ballet has now become almost as much of a Valentine’s Day tradition for the company as it’s performances of THE NUTCRACKER are quintessential to an Atlanta Christmas.

Like Seven Stages’ DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, (which we reviewed here) this version hues surpisingly close to Stoker’s novel, especially in the first act (Harker’s seduction by Dracula’s three brides on a bed will be familiar to rock opera attendees) and even reinstating the American cowboy character of Quincey, though it keeps the characters in London for the climax. In the Atlanta Ballet’s version, however, Dracula runs a fine line of both sexual predator and charmingly seductive, appropriate for a Valentine’s production of a vampire story. Yes, we admit getting being much more hot and bothered when the Count seduces Mina in an electrifying erotic dance than we ever have been seeing a glittered-up Robert Pattinson sinking his teeth into a perpetually bored Kristen Stewart.

So in celebration of this now-Atlanta tradition, we asked the Atlanta Ballet if it could unbury a few behind-the-scenes secrets…

1. Michael Pink’s DRACULA had its world premiere in September 16, 1996, in Bradford Alhambra, England by the Northern Ballet Theatre in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s novel.

2. Production has been seen by over a half a million people worldwide since the world premiere.

3. Atlanta Ballet presented the North American premiere of DRACULA in 1998, and the production broke Atlanta Ballet box office records. The record was then broken again the following season when the company restaged the work for an encore presentation.

4. Dancers who portray Dracula receive additional pay for performing stunts of extraordinary risk.

Dracula (John Welker) and Jonathan Harker (Brian Wallenberg) in the Atlanta Ballet production of Michael Pink's DRACULA. Photo credit: Charlie McCullers.

5. Dancers in the production wear hand-tied wigs costing over $2,000.

6. It takes at least an hour and a half for the dancer performing Dracula to get in costume and makeup, and at least 15 minutes of work after each performance to remove the makeup and wig.

7. Artistic Director John McFall performed the role of Renfield in the Company’s original production in 1998.

8. David Grill, lighting designer of Michael Pink’s DRACULA, has designed the lighting for numerous Super Bowl halftime shows, including Beyonce‘s performance at this year’s showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens.

9. Nick Dudman [blood] is the “drink” of choice for Atlanta Ballet’s Dracula. Dudman Blood was created by costume and special effects director Nick Dudman whose film credits include the HARRY POTTER series, STAR WARS V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, BATMAN, ALIEN 3 and INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE.  It’s apparently the most realistic blood on the market.

10. There are about 40 dancers cast in Atlanta Ballet’s production of Dracula.

BONUS 11: “My favorite scene is the Dracula and Harker part at the end of Act 1,” says Brian Wallenberg, who plays Jonathan Harker in Cast A. “Whether I’m dancing it or not, it’s just one of the best parts of the Ballet. It’s the most fun experience that a character goes through.”

To find out more and purchase tickets to the Atlanta Ballet’s DRACULA, click here.

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A Feast Fit for a King: Chef Val Domingo Cooks Up an Elvis Beer Dinner at Meehan’s Public House Thurs. Jan. 26!

Posted on: Jan 23rd, 2012 By:
Elvis Presley‘s birthday was Jan.8, but Meehan’s Public Housein Sandy Springs isn’t done celebrating. In fact, Chef Val Domingo is preparing a feast fit for a king this Thurs. Jan. 26. His Elvis Beer Dinner features a delicious four-course menu for just $47 (beer included) themed around the rock star’s music, movies and favorite foods, paired with a selection of Belgian-style brews by Ommegang Beer, a Cooperstown, NY microbrewery, and nationally known tribute band, Young Elvis and the Blue Suedes. ATLRetro caught up with Chef Val to find out what’s cooking, why Ommegang, how he got the ideas for rock star/music-themed dinners which have become a regular feature at Meehans, and what’s next on the music menu…
ATLRetro: How did you get the idea for rock star/music-themed dinners?
Chef Val Domingo: I first got the idea when I was the chef at Coastal Kitchen in St. Simons Island.  During the off-season, we were trying to think of ideas outside the box to generate income.  In my career, I’ve always thought of music and the culinary arts as being very similar.  In music, there are different notes, tones and instruments that when they complement each other, produce a harmonious sound.  Similarly, in food, we have different ingredients that have different flavors and textures that when cooked in a certain way produces a unique and pleasing complement to your taste buds.
What’s on the menu for the Elvis Beer Dinner?
First course – Louisiana crab cakes infused with andouille sausage, and served with crawfish gumbo. Second course – sesame-crusted Ahi tuna with rocquet greens, candied macadamia nuts, red curry pineapple vinaigrette, avocado and mandarin oranges.  Third – hickory-smoked Memphis ribs, dark chocolate bbq, smoked bacon and potato gallete, grilled asparagus. Fourth course – banana bread French toast with house-made honey-roasted peanut butter ice cream
How did you decide what to serve to honor the King of Rock n Roll? Did you look to his music for inspiration or more to the foods he enjoyed? 
I used his music, his background of where he grew up and lived, his acting career, and reviewed some of his favorite foods. For example, the first course is from the song and movie, KING CREOLE, second course is from his album, BLUE HAWAII, third course is from his album, FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS, plus the fact that he lived in Memphis, [and the] fourth course is a version of one of his favorite sandwiches, peanut butter and banana.

Executive Chef Val Domingo. Photo courtesy of Meehan's Public House.

What one dish do you think he’d especially enjoy and why? 
The dessert course, “21st century peanut butter and bananas” because just like a creative musician, I think he’d appreciate my creativity in bringing a different twist with the banana bread French toast and homemade honey-roasted peanut butter ice cream.
Can you tell us a little bit about Ommegang Beer, and how it compliments the food pairings?
Ommegang brewery is the first farmstead brewery built in the USA in over a century.  It is located in Cooperstown, NY.  I chose this high-gravity brewery because of its uniqueness, just like how Elvis was a unique artist during that time.  For example, the Three Philosophers that I am pairing with my dessert course is quadruple ale blended with Kriek, a fermented cherry beer in Belgium, that complements the dessert with some bittersweet chocolate tones and the hint of cherries.  Another beer that I’m using is Ommegang Hennepin that pairs extremely well with shellfish. It is one of the few beers that is aged in a cave 45 minutes from Cooperstown, 40 meters below the ground in at a temperature of 52 degrees.  I am pairing my Louisiana crab cakes with that beer.  I believe beer is the best palate cleanser due to the carbonation in the beer cleansing your palate from what you just ate.
What else will be going on in addition to dining and drinks? 
We have an Elvis tribute band, Young Elvis and the Blue Suedes, which is a national act that is endorsed by Elvis’ stepbrothers. They are different from other Elvis tribute bands because they actually use the vintage instruments in their performances.
How often do you schedule music dinners, and what other rock/music stars have you developed menus around?
We do these music themed dinners on Thursdays, for the most part.  I chose Thursdays because [it’s] a preview to the weekend. Other dinners I have done in the past include The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Dave Matthews, Ray Charles, Pink Floyd.
Which was your favorite, and who was the most challenging? Why?
Most challenging – Pink Floyd because at the time, we had the biggest attendance, and for my entree course I had to make as part of my entree, Yorkshire pudding, for 55 guests. Yorkshire pudding, if you haven’t made it before, can be tricky, and you can’t really prep that too far ahead of time. My favorite is a tie between Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.  I’m a huge fan of both.  With Ray Charles, I prepared the menu with his ties towards Georgia, using all local produce and ingredients native to the state.  Johnny Cash was my first music dinner at Meehans Public House, Sandy Springs.  All the food was perfectly executed, and we had a great turn-out at 47 guests. It was so successful that we are now partnering up with the Atlanta Ballet in March to do the dinner once again, during their THE MAN IN BLACK performance.
What’s and when is your next music dinner? And can you give us a taste of what’ll be on that menu yet?
Our next music dinner will be a New Orleans Mardi Gras dinner that will be held in late February. The music will be jazz tunes. My entree for that dinner will be a cast iron blackened catfish, andouille sausage red beans and rice, shrimp etoufee. My dessert will be sweet potato beignets with house-made butter pecan ice cream.
For more information and reservations, call 404-843-8058 or visit www.meehanssandysprings.com. Meehan’s Public House is located at 227 Sandy Springs Place Atlanta, Ga. 30328.

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Dracula, A.D. 2011: Chris Love’s Hard-Rockin’ Harker

Posted on: Feb 9th, 2011 By:

Children of the night, rejoice. The Little 5 Points Rockstar Orchestra is driving a stake into your preconceptions of rock opera as a dead-and-buried art form and putting the bite back into vampire lore at 7 Stages this week with HAUS VON DRACUL, PART 1. The production marks another collaboration between long-time Atlanta musician Rob Thompson (Ghost Story, Blistered), also owner of Java Lords Coffee House & Bar, who also plays the Count, and horror Renaissance man Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow) who also created savage set design and make-up for the Rockstar Orchestra’s A KRAMPUS CHRISTMAS at 7 Stages last December.

Chris Love as Jonathan Harker in Haus Von Dracul, Part 1. Photo Credit: Nicole Boroski

ATLRetro caught up with guitarist Chris Love, who plays hero Jonathan Harker, this week, to dig up more about HAUS VON DRACUL and why a vampire rock opera makes for the perfect Valentine-week date.

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