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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

How Ailey dancers, circus performers dealt with snow, ice, idleness

By Howard Pousner / hpousner@ajc.com
and Rosalind Bentley / rbentley@ajc.com

Principal dancer Alicia Graf Mack from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre took it as a bad omen when she hit a Midtown grocery store Monday and found it “ransacked.”

The 30 dancers, plus 20 crew members and staffers for the famed New York dance troupe heard there might be bad weather before leaving Washington for their annual stop at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre.

Atlanta’s weather “event” has played havoc with the schedules of the Ailey dancers, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and Big Apple circuses, the Alliance Theatre, and other touring and hometown troupes.

The Ailey troupe canceled a school matinee performance Thursday, and that evening’s opening program was hastily rescheduled for Sunday night. In six years with the company, Mack can remember one or two cancellations.

“We were kind of bummed,” Mack said. “Knowing we won’t perform until Friday, I think it’s going to feel like I was shot out of a cannon because I’ve been in the hotel so much.”

The dancers’ Midtown digs were within walking distance to the Fox, but their stage equipment, including the special dance floor that covers the stage, remained in trucks waiting to be unloaded. The performers were told to wear sneakers instead of typical dance shoes to the first rehearsal Thursday, to help protect themselves from injury.

With an unexpected night off, Mack planned to hit the hotel gym, cook dinner in her efficiency kitchen, catch up on her reading and call family.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Built to Amaze” show at Philips Arena was canceled Wednesday and Thursday. Extra heaters had been ordered and arrived in advance of the storm to keep all the tigers, horses, elephants and other animals warm in tents behind the arena, said Andre McClain, ringmaster. Crew members charged with caring for the animals stayed with them around the clock to make sure the animals were warm and fed.

But for the performers, the storm reminded them of the advantages of traveling in a mile-and-a-half-long train. Several went out early Tuesday and bought supplies and favorite treats to prepare to hunker down as the ice approached.

“For us, the train is like a city without a ZIP code, so we had plenty of food, places to sleep, but we have been sitting on a train for days,” McClain said. “But it has been great! Last night we had a card game in my room, people have been watching TV and playing video games. I’ve got some meat marinating right now, and we’re going to have a barbecue in a couple of hours.”

The Big Apple Circus, performing at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, canceled only a Thursday matinee and planned for the show, “Luminocity,” to go on that night.

With three weeks to go before opening night, canceling rehearsals for the Alliance Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Tall Girls” was the last thing the actresses needed. Especially since they all need to learn how to sink a three-pointer and dribble a basketball without traveling.

The play, written by Meg Miroshnik, is about how basketball fever sweeps a small Minnesota town in the 1930s and centers on the teen-age female players. But for the Alliance, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Miroshnik’s play is the last in a series celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition, which has garnered national acclaim. Miroshnik, a graduate of Yale, won the prize in 2012 for “The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls.”

“There are scenes where an actor has to make the basket in order for a scene to move on, so depending upon if she makes it or not, the scene could last 30 seconds or several minutes depending on what kind of night the actors are having,” Miroshnik said. “You can’t fake a shot on stage, so I hate to lose a day to weather when they could practice.”

Actress Emily Kitchens said she’ll be ready — at least her lines will be memorized.

“I don’t know about my three-pointer,” Kitchens said, “but I’ll get in there and do some layups.”

For an updated list of cancellations and postponements, go to www.accessatlanta.com.

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