Big Boi: Ballet in The A

Ballet gets ‘big’ boost from Big Boi She was dressed in a snow-white tutu, looking pure and sweet even though the lyrics she sang spoke of hardship and pain. Her eyes were bright as she manipulated her arms and legs in awkward moves, more like a contortionist than a ballerina. But this was no dancer. This was newly signed Bad Boy artist Janelle Monae.You almost forgot a professionally trained ballet dancer accompanied her. Truth be told, it really didn’t matter. She dominated the stage during her performance at the world premiere event big featuring the Atlanta Ballet and Antwon “Big Boi” Patton of OutKast. As Monae ended her set, which included performing her single, “Sincerely Jane,” she moonwalked off the Fox Theatre stage while the crowd lost it.It was clear the Atlanta Ballet stumbled onto something ‘big.’big was the brainchild of Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director John McFall, who thought it would be cool to combine Hip-Hop with traditional ballet. Considering the company;s financial trouble—a deficit topping at about $760,000 for 2007—this out-of-the-box creative venture was the perfect project to put the spotlight back on the classic genre.

“I’m adventurous. I said let’s try it. I wanna see

what it’s gonna be like. I wanna see them get wit’ that bass.” -Big Boi

Last year McFall attended a fundraising event for Big Boi’s non-profit organization Big Kidz Foundation to pitch his idea. “John was like, ‘What you think about letting us interpret the music into ballet?’,” Big Boi explains while taking a break from running around in Stankonia Studios in Atlanta, Georgia.  “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s some pimp s**t.” While Andre “3000” Benjamin was once considered the weird half of the musical phenomenon OutKast, and is now revered as a creative genius, Big Boi was primarily pigeonholed – until now. This eclectic marriage of music and dance shows that Turbans simply weren’t his forté. But tights? “I’m adventurous,” offers Big Boi. “I said let’s try it. I wanna see what it’s gonna be like. I wanna see them get wit’ that bass.”So, choreographer Lauri Stallings came to the studio and started flipping through the catalogue. Stallings readily admitted she was “uneducated” about Hip-Hop music, but made it clear: “I respect it.” As she came across certain songs, Big says, “She was feeling different things and making different moves.” “It makes you respond, it makes you feel so much,” Stallings says. After narrowing the initial 40 songs down to the 11 songs featured in the show – which included a medley of OutKast classics like “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” “Player’s Ball,” and “Elevators (Me & You)” – the Chicago transplant said she began choreographing the dance sequences by simply allowing the music to dictate the moves in order to create the synergy between the two genres. The multi-platinum artist never considered making new music for this project. “My music is what I feel. It’s art. Song and dance go hand in hand,” says Big Boi, asserting OutKast’s music is a complete package no matter who is listening to it.

“You gotta try new things and put it out there. You never know what you

gonna get until you go in your lab and put on your lab coat.” -Big Boi

“You listen to it, you adore it, you respect it. And you just wanna be able to put that inside what you do and support what Big does,” says Stallings. “When I started digesting it all it felt like I was listening to Mozart in the 21st century. It’s that complex. It’s so rich with texture and layers. It was like I was at home in a way.”One song Stallings selected was Aquemini’s “Liberation.” Considered a classic by OutKast fans, it made for a stand-out performance during the show, which featured Joi, C-Bone, Keisha Jackson, Big Rube and Rock D. It’s a song that Stallings felt illustrates the sign of the times.Stallings quotes the song, “It’s a fine line between love and hate, can’t wait too late. I’m on it.,” before adding, “Yeah, it’s time to do away with trivial way of thinking and move forward. This time is not going to happen again.”“It was beautiful to have another creative mind thinking and feeling the music and could see different things in the music that I couldn’t see being a part of ballet,” says Big Boi about watching Stallings absorb his music.As a student at Tri-City High School in East Point, Georgia, a performing arts school, Patton said he was exposed to all types of dance and music. But the only ballet show he ever saw was The Nutcracker in elementary school. Yet, it planted the seed to want to experiment with artistic expression. Says Big, “You gotta try new things and put it out there. You never know what you gonna get until you go in your lab and put on your lab coat and sprinkle a little bit of this and a little bit of that. If it’s striking me a certain way then I’m satisfied.”Since the show’s ending on Sunday (April 13), there are already talks of taking it on the road. Big is excited about the possibility of expanding on the idea and sharing it with the world. “I can’t even put it into words. This started out like an adventure to tap into something new and now it’s manifested itself into something that’s gon’ be big.”Yaminah Ahmad is an editor and freelance writer in Atlanta, Georgia. She can be reached at missyaminah@gmail.com.

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