Lauri Stallings has a knack for befuddling audiences with her art. When I first heard of Bloom, the site-specific dance performance that would take place in the arteries of – of all places – Lenox Mall, my first response was a wrinkled brow and a head scratch. Why Lenox Mall? Why not a venue that would be more suited to the art form than a place characterized by crowded consumerism? Yet, I was intrigued enough to brave the weekend throngs and hellacious parking lot to catch a glimpse of gloAtl’s final performance of Bloom, which was set to begin at 4pm on Sunday.
At 4:15, a sizeable crowd of curious spectators gathered around a stark white dance floor that had been installed near the Starbuck’s at the center of the mall. Several more people – including yours truly – leaned over the banister of the mezzanine above, waiting for the spectacle to begin. Most people had no idea what they were even waiting for. “There’s a dance performance today,” I informed those who bothered to ask. One guy responded, “Oh, like America’s Best Dance Crew!?” He seemed a mite disappointed when I told him the show would be more ballet than b-boy.
After waiting several minutes with eyes trained on the stage, I noticed an out-of-place character in the crowd below. A svelte dancer clothed in a burlap-and-black tutu dress stood amidst the waiting onlookers; no one appeared to even notice she was there. Another dancer emerged from the crowd, crossed the stage and exited to the stairs leading to the second level of the mall, disappearing from view as quickly as she had appeared. Moments later, two more dancers emerged from the mass of shoppers, stretching limbs, twirling and executing elegantly awkward poses while mall patrons filed by with their shopping bags – some smiling, some oblivious, and some with confused looks on their faces. The befuddlement spread to the mezzanine quickly, especially when more than one dancer nudged between the upstairs onlookers, executing arabesques and fluid backbends over the edge of the railing.
The elimination of the barrier between a performer and an audience made for some profound observations. The crowd seemed to focus more on the dancers when they were in the designated performance space than they did when a dancer was literally performing right in front of their faces. I silently wondered whether the goal of Bloom was to remind us that art – like the blooming of a flower – is organic, and that we should be conscious of its presence all around us, instead of limiting it to a stage or a designated venue that proclaims, ‘herein lies art’.
Or perhaps the intent was to solidify gloAtl as a sort of fine arts flash mob that spreads this message of organic art appreciation throughout Atlanta.
Or maybe… the objective was simply to make people scratch their heads in between sips of their double shot, no foam macchiatos as they headed for their next retail fix.
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
~Shug Avery, from The Color Purple