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Dance - Robert Dekkers returns to ATL

Choreographer showcases his 'riskiness' with Wabi Sabi

The changeling child who became a lost boy is returning to town a madman. That's the word around the Atlanta Ballet as San Francisco-based choreographer Robert Dekkers returns home to his native Atlanta to create work for the ballet's chamber performance group Wabi Sabi.


Dekkers grew up in Gwinnett County, and he began taking dance lessons at the Atlanta Ballet's Centre for Dance Education. He performed with the full company almost immediately, first as the Changeling Child in the ballet's 1991 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at 5 years old, and continuing with The Nutcracker and other performances, including as one of the Lost Boys in the highly acclaimed 2001 production of Peter Pan. After completing his training and education, Dekkers joined Ballet Arizona for a few years as a company member before striking out on his own, eventually founding the genre-bending contemporary performance group Post:Ballet, in San Francisco. For his work as a choreographer, he has been called a "mad genius" by the Huffington Post, named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" and he has been called "anything but risk averse" by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Wabi Sabi founder John Welker, recently reached out to Dekkers about doing a piece with the ballet's contemporary performance group. Dekkers spoke to Creative Loafing about what the madman might have in store for his return home.

Tell us a little about the piece you're making for Wabi Sabi.

It's titled Yours Is Mine. It's set to a piece by a composer I'm working with named Jonathan Pfeffer. He sent me a piece called Bodega, and I was blown away. I knew I wanted to use it, and I envisioned it with dance right away. He drew from capoeira, the Brazilian dance, and Chicago footwork, which is a very different style. The score is written for two percussionists and two MCs, Lushlife and Yikes the Zero. For the performance at the High, the rappers will come in from Philadelphia to perform live, and the musicians of Sonic Generator will be performing live, as well.

When he wrote the piece, the composer had been reading a lot about young adults who grew up in Philadelphia's worst neighborhood and how they showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder that were comparable to those of soldiers returning home from war. He sent me a lot of the stories that had influenced the work, and one thing I kept noticing was that, whether it was the soldiers or the young adults, there was this hyper sense of camaraderie between them because they were in such a vulnerable place. There was also a lot of aggression and a lot of interesting things about sexuality, too. I saw these very primal instincts — camaraderie, aggression, and sexuality — played together. I told the dancers I was interested in exploring a Venn diagram with those three elements. The work feels very primal and survival-of-the-fittest. There's a lot of groundwork, running and tackling, throwing and flipping. You have to be a ballet dancer to do it, but it doesn't look like ballet, for sure. I'm excited to see the response. I think it's very different from anything the Atlanta Ballet has done.

The installation at the High Museum where the piece will be performed is titled Mi Casa, Your Casa, and your piece is called Yours Is Mine. Was that planned, or is it just a happy coincidence?

A happy coincidence. When I found out the title of the installation at the High Museum, I just thought it was all rather lovely and perfect.

Your work has been called "risky" and "mad." Do you think of your work that way?

I definitely get a lot of feedback that the work I make is risky and a little mad sometimes. Every piece I do ends up really different. I try to collaborate with a lot of different artists. A piece of mine that premiered last week had animations, so I worked with a visual artist and two animators. That made it a completely different work from the first piece on the program, which I worked on with an architect. I think the people I work with take risks. They're not people who usually work with dancers, so I think that might spawn some of the response about "riskiness" I get pinned with. And I like that. I always say, "Go big or go home." I do try to avoid doing anything safe. It's important that I push myself with each piece that I do.


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