Last month gloATL and Luminocity Atlanta presented Hinterland, a “parade-like,” site-specific, one-night-only collaboration between gloATL and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton from Outkast. Arriving at Five Points station, I could see that Woodruff Park’s atrium and speaker’s square were packed. Just beyond the initial crowd was an even larger crowd in the center of the park, filling the extended space between the atrium and the waterfall wall at Luckie Street and Auburn Avenue. Throughout the park were lights, dancers wrapped in LEDs, mobile light trucks, smoke machines, and buildings blasted with video projections. Initially spanning the length of the park, the event later burst from the confines of the original block to infiltrate a further stretch of downtown Atlanta. Accompanied by a cadre of drummers, some of whom played from a steampunk-styled float, the crowd danced down Peachtree Street and across town to Centennial Olympic Park. It’s hard to think of another arts event in the region that has been so expansive in its conceptualization and consummate in its execution.
Hinterland’s ability to challenge its audience is commendable: the event-ing (or act of realizing the event) required the audience to actively participate by moving with the show as it traversed the downtown area. If one tried to stay in one place, one would only catch a glimpse of what Hinterland was doing. Hence, the audience had to become fully active in the performance by moving and interacting with an extremely heterogeneous crowd just to be able to see what was going on. It was not what many were accustomed to, visually, physically, or mentally.
But what was Hinterland? Was it a dance performance featuring a famous rapper? Was it a hip-hop show with elaborately costumed back-up dancers and a poor sound system? Was it a parade? Lauri Stallings and Antwan Patton have collaborated previously in the 2008 production at the Atlanta Ballet called big, which was sold – panderingly, frankly – as exciting because it combined hip-hop and ballet. I had to wonder: Why would either party wish to re-enact the same show?
As I joined this dynamic crowd in its infiltration of downtown, however, I realized this wasn’t the same show at all. The interaction with the performers, the people around me, and the downtown terrain offered an entirely different event that not only engaged the bodies in the crowd but also gave them an opportunity to engage their environment – all of these elements acting upon one another to create a truly interactive experience. In this way Hinterland was not a dance event, it was a choreographic event, and as such is better understood as a form of institutional critique.
Choreography and dance are not the same practices. William Forsythe, a dancer and choreographer known for establishing The Forsythe Company and his work with the Frankfurt Ballet, holds that a choreographic object develops alternative means of understanding how the world can be organized. Choreographing the disparate elements involved in Hinterland‘s performances offered the audience a means for reconsidering assumptions about the parties and forms involved, as well as a means to actively reconfigure their relationships with downtown Atlanta.
Hinterland was successful in doing several difficult things through a strategic emphasis on contingent organization. First, overcoming what everyone who lives in town already knows – that no one hangs out downtown. This was overcome by the contingent composition of the crowd itself. Who knows who will show up to an event on a strip of grass in the frigid November evening of a city whose downtown seems to be populated exclusively by two groups of itinerants: the homeless and conventioneers. Instead, a crowd of thousands amassed and moved with the event.
The second major success was Big Boi’s performance. Why include this hip-hop star in this choreographic event? How does hip-hop further the critique? There were some that were surprised at the quality of the sound during his performance, and I, admittedly, was caught off guard by his lip-syncing. It’s easy to criticize lip-syncing for not being real, but, that ignores what hip-hop as an art form can bring to bear. Being “real” in hip-hop signifies something more than a distinction between fake and original. While the distinction may be a part of it, being real is also about reflecting a specific reality: living in a dog-eat-dog society where some are winners, but most are losers. Real, in this sense, means the death of the social, pertinent for Atlanta, a city “too busy to hate,” but still mired in social segregation.
It is most fitting that the culmination of the initial phase of gloATL and Big Boi’s collaboration occurred at the transition of Luckie Street into Auburn Avenue. Only one generation ago white neighbors were going door-to-door petitioning to have their streets renamed so that they wouldn’t have to live with blacks. Moreland became Briarcliff, Courtland became Juniper, Auburn became Luckie. Hinterland‘s critique faces this history of deliberate refusal to coexist by utilizing this intersection as the beginning of the joyous parade through downtown. This was its third success.
Atlanta, as some would have it, will always be a car city. No one walks; everyone drives. By fatal design, Atlanta is a geographical oddity where everywhere is 30 minutes from everywhere else. How will the city engage in alternate flows of bodies across its area? Is it necessarily the case that Atlanta is forever doomed to pockets of cultures never interconnecting? This is what Hinterland investigated. Everyone that conspired in Hinterland should be congratulated for creating an alternative vision of our city. Atlanta needs more events like Hinterland that trust in the public to think through and explore complex interactions.