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‘Cloth Field’ pairs Atlanta Symphony’s Spano with dancers


A couple dozen chandeliers of wildly different styles hang from the ceiling of Goodson Yard, a former warehouse space at the Goat Farm Arts Center, providing a curious touch of the baroque to a performance that’s otherwise almost entirely given over to a sort of naked minimalism.

“Cloth Field,” a collaboration between Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Music Director Robert Spano and Lauri Stallings, artistic director of Atlanta dance company Glo, is a sometimes confounding, often compelling evening-length work for five female dancers that features Spano performing his own piano composition.

Spano occasionally leaves the piano to move with the dancers: Viewers accustomed to seeing the maestro tuxedoed at the podium at Symphony Hall will be surprised to find him here in a black kilt, making intriguingly strange semaphoric gestures with his batonless hands in a hall that’s evocatively silent. It’s a very different task from the usual, one supposes, but he brings a remarkably similar sense of concentration and soberness to both (such moments actually end up ranking among the evening’s most intensely and quietly dramatic).

Spano’s composition itself is unapologetically beautiful, though a listener quickly discovers that its lovely surface, with its spaciously meditative exploration of simple melodic lines and its cool lingering on uncomplicated scales, undulating trills and triads, is undergirded by a sense of things troubled and unsettled. There are even surprising touches of the sinister in the opening of the second half, for which Spano, fittingly enough, moves to a new piano on the other side of the performance space.

Dancers give vivid life to the prismatic and many-mooded composition, though in the performance’s first half, movements and tableaux — especially synchronous group movements — develop too quickly and lurch with disconcerting speed from one idea to the next.

Paradoxically, the moments of stripped-down tranquility, even stillness, which appear primarily in the second half of the work, become the moments most suffused with fascinating detail.

Lifts and carries are undoubtedly some of the most delightfully inventive elements of the dance. There’s a playful sense of curiosity, bordering on awe, about the myriad and often strange ways one body can support another. Especially memorable is when two dancers lift a third so she can momentarily walk — nearly weightless — on the broad, flattened back of another, but there are many such moments.

In the end,“Cloth Field” is refreshingly gentle and meditative, rather than declamatory and exhibitive. Its bare-boned moods and movements are fleeting, often frustratingly elusive, but isn’t that the very nature of a dream?



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