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!

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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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Kool Kat of the Week: Michael Shell Serves Up a Tantalizing Taste into Directing THE GOLDEN TICKET, The Atlanta Opera’s Latest Production Based on CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

Posted on: Mar 1st, 2012 By:

Photo courtesy of Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

Oompa Loompa, Pudding and Pie! Most of us might think of opera as Really Retro, but fans of the blissfully tart children’s book CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl and its iconic cinematic interpretation with Gene Wilder as enigmatic chocolatier Willy Wonka are in for a real treat. The Atlanta Opera is dipping into the 20th century for its 2011-12 season-opener, THE GOLDEN TICKET, with performances March 3, 6, 9 and 11, 2012 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Commissioned by the American Lyric Theater and Dahl’s widow, Felicity Dahl, THE GOLDEN TICKET serves up all the scrumptious delights familiar from the book, including chocolate rivers, inflating blueberries and magic elevators.

The Atlanta Opera production will be the third for THE GOLDEN TICKET which premiered in June 2010 at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and was written by Donald Sturrock (libretto) and Peter Ash (music), who also composed a children’s opera of Dahl’s THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Many singers from the original Saint Louis cast will joing the Atlanta company to reprise their roles in Atlanta, including bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch as Willy Wonka/Mr. Know, tenor Andrew Drost as Augustus Gloop, and baritone David Kravitz as Lord Salt. In another treat, Composer Peter Ash will conduct. And don’t worry. You and the kids don’t need to brush up on your Italian, as the performers will sing in English with English supertitles projected above the stage.

ATLRetro recently caught up with the Atlanta Opera’s Michael Shell, who had the delicious opportunity to direct this opera of pure imagination, to find out more about how it will delight all ages.

ATLRetro: How did the Atlanta Opera come to perform THE GOLDEN TICKET?

Michael Shell: My understanding is that Dennis [Hanthorn, Zurich General Director of the Atlanta Opera] knew of the piece when he was in Milwaukee and wanted to produce it there. They never got to, and then when St. Louis decided to produce it, he came to see the production and wanted to bring it to Atlanta.

Photo courtesy of the Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

When the Tim Burton movie version of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY came out a few years ago, a lot was made about it being closer to the book than WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971) and having the blessing of Felicity Dahl; yet a lot of people love the Gene Wilder version as an iconic part of their childhood. What can you say about THE GOLDEN TICKET’s relationship to the book and those two movies?

I think it is more closely tied to the book. With a few additional characters, Peter and Donald have tried to stay close to the narrative in the story while making changes to aid in bringing it to life onstage. In particular, the role of Charlie. When reading the book, the reader essentially becomes the character of Charlie.  So in the opera, Peter and Donald, found a way to give Charlie a voice through his relationship with his grandparents. In his aria in Act I Charlie is observing his grandparents, all four sleeping in one bed because they can only afford one. He wonders what they must have felt like when they were young and if they also longed to, “escape far away into dreams…”

The physical production also took its inspiration from the book rather than the movies. There are words and letters hidden in the set.  The set unit that is Charlie’s home spells out the word “HOME.” There are letters all over the set that gives us a unity that is tied to the written word. I think the best use of it is in the gates of the factory and also when those gates open. It keeps the audience engaged the same way they are when reading the story. It doesn’t tell you exactly what the factory looks like but allows you to see what you imagine to be the factory.

Backstage at the Atlanta Opera production. Photo credit: Charles Wenzelberg.

How does directing THE GOLDEN TICKET compare to directing classic operas? 

Directing this piece is certainly one of the most exhilarating and terrifying things I have ever done. With shows that have a performance history, you can look at that history as a guide for what you want to do or what you don’t want in a production. With a new piece there is no blueprint.  All you have is the score and the imagination of your collaborators.  With this production having the composer as the conductor has given us amazing insight to meaning behind certain  musical and dramatic moments.  My approach though is the same regardless of the piece.  I want to understand what the story is about or the theme of the story and how that theme relates to the characters. With this answered I can then go further into why characters behave and make the choices they do throughout the course of the opera.

What’s the score like?

The score is lyrical, beautiful, inventive and complex. But even in its complexity, it has a simple accessible style that makes it perfect both avid opera-goers and new audiences alike. The lyrics so skillfully crafted by Donald Sturrock are perfectly musicalized by Peter Ash that you are thrust into the story and the journeys of the characters. There is also plenty of humor that is brought out in the music. The grandparents’ snoring quartet is a prime example. Here are four people coming in and out of dreams, snoring and talking in their sleep. But as you can imagine four older people in one bed, there are bound to be other noises that occur.  We have dubbed this quarter as the “gastric” quartet.  This is the only opera that I have ever directed that I have had to instruct someone how to “pass gas.”

Michael Shell oversees a scene in THE GOLDEN TICKET. Photo credit: Charles Wenzelberg.

The description reads that “THE GOLDEN TICKET is a poignant tale about wishes coming true.” But there’s also a cautionary tale and quite a bit of dark humor in Dahl’s story. How does the opera approach the contradictions in the character of Willy Wonka and balance those two aspects?

I think the darkness is there both in the music but also in the portrayal of Willy himself.  Daniel Okulitch is brilliantly cast in this role. His childlike curiosity mixed with his intelligence and depth of feeling make him the perfect Wonka.

Are there any particular scenes/segments that you think will particularly delight fans of the book and movie(s)?

I think our depiction of the oompa loompas will make fans of the movie happy.  They are a unique take on these characters.  Very unique to the opera is their attitude about life in the factory and life in general.  They are, for me, the heart of the factory.

Apparently Donald Sturrock and Peter Ash, who created the opera, had a lot of trouble getting funding because the opera community had a problem getting a grip around an opera that would appeal to children. How have ticket sales been so far and are you concerned at all that your regular opera audience won’t embrace it for that reason?  

I hope that people who are patrons of opera already come to this with an open mind.  Very often people are turned off to new opera because they are comparing it to their favorite Puccini opera or their favorite Verdi opera. This comparison cannot be made nor would we make on Verdi if he were still composing today.  As we evolve as a society, our expression in artistic endeavors will change. If we don’t begin to accept these new pieces on their own terms and evaluate them in terms of story telling etc rather than if they are as good as TOSCA, we will kill the future of new opera and potentially the art form in general.

Photo courtesy of the Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

Turning the question around, what do you say to people who love the book and movie(s) but are nervous that they won’t enjoy the story as opera?

Any story brought to life onstage is going to require changes to bring it to life for live theater. So I would ask these fans of the book and the movies to come with an open mind and to follow the words of Willy Wonka and “Imagine.”

I think this opera is perfect for both avid opera-goers and people who are new to opera And families. The complexity of the orchestration and score makes it interesting for a music lover. The accessibility of the music’s overall harmony makes it perfect for people who are new to modern opera.  The humor and heart of the story make it perfect for all types of audiences including children.

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Weekend Update, July 15-17, 2011

Posted on: Jul 15th, 2011 By:

Friday, July 15

Veteran rock/Texas country singer-songwriter Steve Earle & the Dukes play the Atlanta Botanical Garden, while R&B performer and former Gap member Charlie Wilson is at Classic ChastainRandy Travis celebrates 25 years of “genuine country” at Cobb Energy Centre. Catch an IMAX movie and learn to salsa dance with Salsambo Dance Studio at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX. Vocalist Julie Dexter performs at Friday Jazz at The High Museum of Art from 5-10 p.m. Visit the galleries through the evening and enjoy food and cocktails. And the Plaza Theatre dishes out a Full Moon Midnight Encore of 1981 John Landis classic horror flick AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Read our Retro Review by veteran FANGORIA writer Philip Nutman here.

Saturday July 16

It’ll be honkytonk heaven at Star Bar with Shovels & RopeBareKnuckle Betties and bassist Joel Hamilton.  I hear there’ll be some table dancin’ going in, but for the full foot-stompin’ scoop, read our exclusive sneak preview with Kool Kat of the Week Julea Thomerson of the Betties here.

Also playing today at the Yaarab Shrine Center are the Atlanta Rollergirls. At 5 p.m., the Dirty South Derby Girlstake on Brewcity Bruisers, and at 7:30 p.m. it’s the Denim Demons vs. Apocalypstix. Help Daniel Timms, who was in a motorcycle accident, and Sussi “Chevy” Shavers, who was in a moped accident, recover from some serious medical bills at the Bone Breakers Ball at Elliott Street Pub and Deli. Performers include boylesque/burlesque beauties Fonda Lingue and Ruby Redmayne, and there’s a silent auction of cool art, tattoos, pin-up photography and more. Andrew and the Disapyramids stir up the surf at 529 Club with FishHawk and Winter Ransom. In case you missed our Extra Kool Kat of the Week feature with guitarist Joshua Longino, you can still catch it here. Two Atlanta classics, Michelle Malone and Col. Bruce Hampton are at Eddie’s Attic and The Five Spot. Fedora Blues performs at Fat Matt’s Rib ShackHolliday Brothers blues it up at Hottie Hawg’s. And, of course, DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno late into the wee hours.

The Serenaders.

Sunday July 17

The Serenaders serve up a retrobilly “dunch” gig between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl. At Eddie’s Attic, groove to Grammy Award-winning drummer Yonrico Scott‘s Band and legendary New Orleans mojo soul performer Coco Robicheaux.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, July 11-17, 2011

Posted on: Jul 12th, 2011 By:

Monday July 11

From 3 PM on, savor tropical sounds and libations, as well as a Polynesian dinner during Mai Tai Monday at Smith’s Olde BarKingsized and Tongo Hiti lead singer Big Mike Geier is Monday night’s celebrity bartender at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong ParlorNorthside Tavern hosts its weekly Blues Jam.

Tuesday July 12

It’s a full moon movie Tuesday as two 35 mm classics featuring creatures on the prowl return to the big screens of Atlanta two most Retro cinemas. Elizabeth Taylor slinks like A CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Read Dean Treadway‘s review of the 1958 film based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same title, also starring Paul Newman and Burl Ives here, and be sure to be there by 7 p.m. for the Mighty Mo‘ organ singalong, cartoon and vintage newsreel. Then at 9:30 p.m. at The Plaza, Splatter Cinema presents AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, the 1981 John Landis-directed cult favorite that introduced audiences to the full-body monster transformation with special make-up effects. Read Philip Nutman‘s review here.

Sultry and sexy ’80s torch-singer Sade performs with John Legend at Philips Arena. Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. JT Speed plays the blues at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins the best ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland. Catch Tuesday Retro in the Metro nights at Midtown’s Deadwood Saloon, featuring live video mixes of ’80s, ’90s, and 2Ks hits.

Wednesday  July 13

Sade plays a second night with John Legend at Philips Arena. Vocalist Boz Scaggs sings American classics from Gershwin to Rodgers and Hart at Classic Chastain with former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at Graveyard Tavern. Deacon Brandon Reeves bring the blues to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck blues it down at Northside Tavernrespectively. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven.

Thursday  July 14

The Craigger White Band bring back the spirit of ’70s rock at Kathmandu Restaurant & Grill in Clarkston. All Thursday shows at the Vietnamese restaurant are free and all-ages. Go Retro-Polynesian to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologneat Aurum LoungeBreeze Kings and Chickenshack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.Bluegrass Thursday at Red Light Cafe features Hunger Valley Boys.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, April 11-17, 2011

Posted on: Apr 12th, 2011 By:

Last week was fairly quiet when it came to Retro-inspired activities in Atlanta, So ATLRetro took a bit of a rest. This week starts slowly, too, but once Saturday hits, even I’m not sure what to do. Let’s just say EVERYTHING happens all at once and ATLRetro revs back up, too, with a bunch of special features including a bedazzling look back at last month’s Southern Fried Burlesque courtesy of the tantalizing Talloolah Love, an exclusive preview of Saturday night’s The Chamber Reunion courtesy of Kool Kat of the Week Mon Cherie, the Dogwood Festival celebrates its 75th anniversary with two vintage amusement rides, and more.

Monday April 11

An acclaimed musician whom B.B. King says has “soul,” D.B. Rielly takes rock and country back to its roots at Smith’s Olde Bar, with back-to-the-basics, ’70s-rock-inspired Saturn 5 and alt-folk Little Brave also on the bill. Northside Tavern hosts its weekly Blues Jam.

Tuesday April 12

Splatter Cinema travels back to 1985 with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE at 9:30 PM at the Plaza Theatre. While ATLRetro reviewer Mark Arson admits the first sequel may not be the most creative of the Krueger movies, it still features a lot of fun scares, and you know the Splatter gang will dream up a photo op that will haunt your sleep.

Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. J.T. Speed plays the blues at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins the best ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland. Catch Tuesday Retro in the Metro nights at Midtown’s Deadwood Saloon, featuring live video mixes of ’80s, ’90s, and 2Ks hits. Or go really retro with the Atlanta Opera‘s COSI FAN TUTTE at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. In Mozart’s comedic masterpiece, two Italian officers boast of their fiancees’ faithfulness, only to have a clever friend put it to the test.

Wednesday April 13

Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at Graveyard Tavern. Deacon Brandon Reeves and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck bring on the blues at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack and Northside Tavern respectively. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven, starting at 8 PM.

Thursday April 14

ATHENS BURNING, a documentary about the history of the historic Georgia Theatre, a key venue in the college town’s famous music scene, screens at The Plaza Theatre at 7:30 PM. Cowboy Envy strums up some mighty fine traditional and original Western tunes at Atlanta’s tastiest new concert venue, Kathmandu Kitchen and Grill, formerly Pho Truc, in Clarkston from 8-10 PM. Listen to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. Watch the classic Gregory PeckAudrey Hepburn romance-on-a-motorscooter movie ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953), drink some wine, hear Free Poems on Demand, and check out PASSIONE ITALIANA: DESIGN OF THE ITALIAN MOTORCYCLE during MODA‘s Thursday night Drink in Design from 6-8 PM. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologne at Aurum Lounge.  Breeze Kings and Chickenshack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.

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Weekend Update, Feb. 24-27, 2011

Posted on: Feb 24th, 2011 By:

As I said at the start of the week, there are some tough choices this weekend, and a few additions not included in This Week to make it even harder. Whatever you choose, hope you have a ravishingly Retro good time!

Thursday Feb. 24

The Atlanta Opera presents the opening night of George Gershwin’s PORGY & BESS, a American folk opera about two lovers struggling to find happiness in Charleston’s Catfish Row. Find out more about the production at the Cobb Energy Centre which runs through March 6, in KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK spotlighting Costume Coordinator Joanna Schmink.

Good grief, CB’s an adolescent now, his little sister’s a goth, his ex-girlfriend’s in a mental hospital for setting too many fires, his friends are all drunk, and when his dog dies from rabies after killing a “little yellow bird,” he starts to question the existence of an afterlife.That’s the wacked-out premise of DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD, a black comedy inspired by the popular PEANUTS comic strip and performed by the new Fabrefaction Theatre Company, which premieres today and runs through March 13.

ATLRetro will finally be joining the Last Of The Red Hot Truc-ers as Ghost Riders Car Club celebrates Vietnamese New Year with classic ’50s honkytonk and rockabilly for the last of their February Thursday night free gigs at Pho Truc in Clarkston. For a sneak peek, read Feb. 1 ’s KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK with guitarist Spike Fullerton. Listen to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. And Breeze Kings bring on the blues at Northside Tavern.

Friday Feb. 25

Get back to rock’s rockabilly, country and Western swing roots with Big Sandy & His Flyrite Boys, with special guests Caroline & the Ramblers and The Stumblers, at Star Bar. It’s a soulful night at Highland Inn Ballroom with The Soulphonics & Ruby Velle and George Hughley with Johnny & the Lakewood 5. The Nick Longo Band jazzes up Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis & IMAX. And go really retro with a futuristic twist at AnachroCon, a three-day steampunk convention, which kicks off today in grande style with The Gaslamp Gala, a concert extravaganza organized and presented by The Artifice Club‘s Dr. Q, at 7 PM. Performers include The Ghosts Project with Nathaniel Johnstone (Abney Park) and Play it with Moxie, a ballroom jazz band. Admission is included in your AnachroCon membership, with VIP seating available for $5.  All festivities are at the Holiday Inn Select Perimeter, 4386 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, Feb. 21-27, 2011

Posted on: Feb 21st, 2011 By:

It’s a veritable luau feast for Retro activities in Atlanta this week, and ATLRetro has some tough decisions about what to do, especially on Saturday night.

Monday Feb. 21

Joe Gransden & his smokin’ 16-piece orchestra present another Big Band Night of jazz at Café 290, featuring Sinatra, Bennett, Basie and Joe’s originals.

Tuesday Feb. 22

The current incarnation of seminal progressive rockers The Church play their haunting melodies not just under the Milky Way but at Variety Playhouse. Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra are at Symphony Hall. Or if you live on the east side, swing dance to the Atlanta-New York Connection at the unlikely location of Northlake Mall’s Food Garden starting at 6 PM. Then head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM.

Wednesday Feb. 23

“If Elvis had been a woman, he probably would have sounded just like Kim Lenz,” says Rolling Stone. Decide for yourself when the scarlet-haired rockabilly queen brings her fiery voice to the Star Bar with her band The Jaguars. And if the night weren’t rockin’ enough, local faves Atomic Rockets and Junior, Dolan & Cash are also on the bill. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at The Glenwood. Catch Joe Gransden every Wednesday night at 8:30 PM at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven, starting at 8 PM.

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