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Atlanta Ballet unveils production with Big Boi
Big Bois Ballet Heal
Members of the Atlanta Ballet rehearse for the company's upcoming production entitled "big" Tuesday, March 25, 2008 in Atlanta. This month, dozens of classically trained dancers will perform in "big," which is part ballet and part concert. The work, which premieres April 10 in Atlanta, is a play on the contrasts between the grit of hip-hop and the grace of ballet. - photo by Associated Press
    ATLANTA — For the past few months, dancers in the Atlanta Ballet have been pimping out the pirouette, breaking down the battement and remixing the ronde de jambe.
    On Thursday, the classically trained dancers will put on their toe shoes and debut ‘‘big,’’ a new work that fuses the hip-hop stylings of Outkast’s Big Boi and the graceful traditions of ballet.
    ‘‘I just thought it would be ... cool ... to make something that’s so dainty and elegant and sophisticated to some of this hard core, bumping type funk that we do,’’ says Big Boi, who was born Antwan Patton.
    The iconic duo Outkast — Big Boi and Andre 3000 — probably didn’t have ballet in mind when they wrote tracks like ‘‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’’ or ‘‘Player’s Ball,’’ but the music is now part of the new collaboration between Big Boi and the Atlanta Ballet.
    Choreographed by Lauri Stallings, ‘‘big’’ is part ballet and part concert. The work, which features dozens of dancers and consists of two 50-minute acts, is a play on the contrasts between hip-hop and ballet.
    The dancers perform alongside six-time Grammy winner Big Boi and other artists from his record label, Purple Ribbon Entertainment. Though it wasn’t his idea, Patton says the finished product, which was different and avant-garde even for him, is exactly what he wanted.
    Sharing his excitement is John McFall, the 61-year-old who directs the Atlanta Ballet.
    McFall had been looking for a hip-hop partner when he was introduced to the 33-year-old Patton at a fundraiser for the rapper’s youth foundation about three years ago. McFall immediately pitched the idea and said Patton seemed interested — as long as he didn’t have to wear a tutu or tights.
    The world premiere runs through April 13 at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta.
    A year in the making, ‘‘big’’ features music from Outkast’s catalog — including ‘‘Bombs Over Baghdad’’ from ‘‘Stankonia,’’ ‘‘Morris Brown’’ from the ‘‘Idlewild’’ movie soundtrack and ‘‘Kryptonite’’ from ‘‘Big Boi Presents ... Got Purp? Vol. 2.’’ The production also showcases such artists as Sleepy Brown and Janelle Monae, who are on Patton’s label.
    ‘‘big’’ tells the story of Little Big, a younger, more naive Patton, who goes through different encounters in various scenes to learn more about the world around him.
    Artistically, the focus is on contrasts: beauty and ugliness, male and female, slow and fast, smooth and rough. The movement is more modern dance in movement and expression.
    ‘‘It’s very physical, very visceral and it’s what’s happening today in the world,’’ says Stallings, who scrolled through Patton’s iPod with him to choose the music to accompany what she later choreographed. ‘‘We are all classical artists but we need to move forward.’’
    Stallings, 39, is a student of McFall’s and has created new works for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, American Repertory Ballet, Dutch National Ballet Project, Fordham/Ailey 2 and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, where she spent the last five seasons with the contemporary dance company. She is also currently choreographing for Cirque du Soleil.
    For all involved, the creative relationship has been about blending two genres that McFall says have a lot in common in terms of expression and communication.
    ‘‘The arts can take us on a bit of a journey where we better understand and appreciate each other,’’ he says.
    Patton also stresses the transformative and unifying power of the production.
    ‘‘That’s what it’s about — each one, teach one,’’ he says. ‘‘I just want to get a chance to open people’s minds to different things. Some of them like the ballet and our music. Why not bring those people together?’’
    Patton can certainly count Nathan Griswold and Kelsey Yip — members of the Atlanta Ballet — among his biggest fans. The two 20-somethings both grew up listening to Outkast and said they could hardly believe their company was taking on such a project.
    ‘‘I was like, ’Yeah!’ when I found out he was going to be a part of it,’’ Griswold said, who was at first skeptical about how involved Patton was going to be in the actual production. ‘‘I get to be on stage with Big Boi. ... That’s pretty cool.’’
    Yip said ‘‘big’’ is unlike anything that she’s ever done or seen.
    ‘‘The ballet is so stereotypically rigid, and this changes it into something more suitable for hip hop,’’ she said.
    For Patton, seeing it all come together has been a rewarding experience.
    ‘‘I thought it was unique,’’ he says. ‘‘Ballet is a form of art and it’s all about expression. To see her put that to the music, it’s dope to me.’’
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