Atlanta Ballet's Camino Real is Beautifully Surreal

Inspired by Tennessee Williams’ 1953 Broadway play of the same name, Atlanta Ballet presented the world premiere of Camino Real,  March 20 - 22, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center.  It was choreographed by Atlanta Ballet choreographer in residence Helen Pickett.
 
Told from the perspective of Kilroy, a character based on patriotic iconography from the WWII era, this young American soldier and one-time prize-winning boxer finds himself trapped in the surreal, dead-end town of Camino Real forced to grapple with mortality, the burning desire to connect and the will to live.   
 
Through his journey to bring renewed hope to the town of lost souls, Kilroy meets a cast of unlikely characters from various periods of history and pop culture, such as Casanova, Esmeralda (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Marguerite (The Lady of the Camellias) and Lord Byron, who together struggle to escape their fates. 
   
“This is your classic good versus evil story,” said Pickett, whose adventure with the play began five years ago when her father handed down his copy from his college theater days, suggesting it would make a good ballet.    
 
“I read it once and put it away, not understanding how I might tackle the content,” said Pickett. “A year later, I picked up the play again and found my way into the story: focus on the characters first. Now, it is such a part of my reality, I can’t imagine how I will let go of these characters.”   
 
Pickett announced the project shortly after accepting her residency with Atlanta Ballet in 2012 and has been working on the production ever since.  Every aspect of the ballet, from the music to the costumes to the set design, has been a collaborative effort between Pickett and the team of artists she assembled.  
  
The whimsical costumes were created by award-winning designer Sandra Woodall --  Pickett has known her since she was a student with San Francisco Ballet. Woodall introduced Pickett to lighting designer David Finn, whose commissions include Cirque du Soleil and numerous major U.S. ballet companies. Finn recommended set designer Emma Kingsbury, who he subsequently worked in tandem with on the scenic design. The rich, textured score, which Pickett describes as a character all its own, is the creation of composer Peter Salem.    
 
“All of these people truly enjoy the art of collaboration,” said Pickett. “They are magnificent artists that bring all their ideas to the table. We are like mix masters; we just throw all of our concepts into the bowl and stir and filter. I am in love with each of them and their visions.”   
 
The final layer of the creative process ... the choreography, which was a collaboration as well with Atlanta Ballet’s full 23-member company. Pickett began working with the Company in September, devoting full days to rehearsal to ensure this 75-minute ballet would be completed by the scheduled March premiere.  
 
Adding to the theatricality, Pickett challenged several of the dancers to learn lines. Williams’ text – actual excerpts from the play - were spoken by the principal characters throughout the ballet.    
 
After more than 300 rehearsal hours, Camino Real graced the stage with splendor.  Salem's score conveyed the jazzy streets and sweaty ennui of Camino Real and Pickett's choreography grafts to it organically.
 
What Pickett understands is that if a story is to be translated into dance - in this case dance theatre - its structure must be rendered transparent, otherwise there's just too much to assimilate.  She has done everything right.  She knows that ballet-making is about assembling the right team. And that's exactly what she's done, to a triumphant effect.
 
I absolute loved everything about Camino Real and hope that a special performance is scheduled soon, because seeing it once was just not enough.

Below are highlights of the performance:

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Heath Gill is Kilroy, John Welker is Gutman and Alexandre Barros is the officer.
 
Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Casanova (Christian Clark) looks onward as Kilroy (Heath Gill) gazes at Esmeralda (Tara Lee).

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
John Welker portrays "the bad boy" extremely well as Gutman.

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
The Waiter (Shaun Gheyssen), Lady Mulligan (Coco Mathieson), Lord Mulligan (Brandon Nguyen) and Casanova (Christian Clark).

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
The officers (Alexandre Barros and Jared Tan) are joined by Olympa (Yoomi Kim) and Prudence (Jackie Nash). 

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Olympa (Yoomi Kim), the Gypsy (Devon Joslin) and the Officer (Jared Tan).

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Kilroy engages the Corps.

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
The inebriated Marguerite (Nadia Mara) is helped by Casanova (Christian Clark).

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Kilroy has his fortune told.

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
The name, the legacy.

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Sancho Panza (Dan Baraszu).

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Marguerite (Nadia Mara) is helped by Casanova (Christian Clark).

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Kilroy is mocked and becomes the clown (Heath Gill and Jared Tan).

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Kilroy (Heath Gill), Gutman (John Welker), Casanova (Christian Clark) and Officer (Jared Tan).

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Kilroy (Heath Gill) and Esmeralda (Tara Lee).


Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Kilroy (Heath Gill) with Esmeralda (Tara Lee).

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
The Cleaners (Peng-Yu Chen, Rachel Van Buskirk and Jacob Bush)
 with Casanova (Christian Clark) and Kilroy (Heath Gill).
 
Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Kiara Felder shines as Madrecita.
 
Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
The Cleaners (Peng-Yu Chen, Rachel Van Buskirk and Jacob Bush)
with Marguerite (Nadia Mara) and the body of Kilroy (Benjamin Stone).

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
The spirit of Kilroy (Heath Gill) looks onward in disbelief at
Marguerite (Nadia Mara) and the body of Kilroy (Benjamin Stone).

Helen Pickett (Photo by Tatiana Wills)
For more information about Atlanta Ballet or to purchase tickets to the upcoming production Modern Choreographic Voices, visit www.atlantaballet.com.
 


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Bonnie Morét is an award-winning photographer recognized by The Georgia Council of the Arts as "an exceptional representation of contemporary Georgia art work." Her photography is featured on Georgia Public Broadcast's Georgia Traveler. Her exhibitions include Fifth Annual Exposure Awards at Musee du Louvre in Paris, France, Art Takes Miami at Scope Art during Art Basel Miami, Metro Montage XIII at the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, World of Water at the Georgia Aquarium, Open Walls at Black Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon, Wholly Georgia: A Look at the Effects of Southern Religious Culture, sponsored by the Art History League and Georgia State University, at Mint Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia, 6x6 at the Rochester Contemporary Arts Center in Rochester, New York, @Phonography: Dialogue in the Wireless Age, at 3 Ring Circus in New Orleans, Louisiana, and About Lands and Lives of the Civil War at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. Her photography appears in Modern Luxury/The Atlantan, Jezebel Magazine, and hangs in the executive offices at the Georgia State Capitol as part of the Art of Georgia exhibit. Corporate clients include Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta History Center, Chanel Cosmetics, Christian Dior Cosmetics, Sharp Mountain Vineyards, PM Realty Group, Granite Properties, Road Atlanta, Patrón Tequila, Georgia's Own Credit Union, StubHub, CBM Records and The Washington Auto Show.