JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – When Michael and Kitty Garrison first opened their dance school, North Atlanta Dance Academy, 20 years ago, they had a dream to eventually add a professional dance theater to the mix.
On a wing and a prayer, Atlanta Dance Theatre, was launched 2 years later in 1999 as a 501 c3 not for profit entity and the Garrisons and the theater have never looked back.
“It’s been an amazing and humbling journey. We worked on [the theater] for two years. When we came out with it at Blessed Trinity Church it was a dream come true,” Michael said. “It doesn’t seem like 20 years. We just got a wedding invitation from one of our first students.
“Now we are teaching the children of the children we taught. It’s like a large family in many ways.”
Kitty agreed. She said the mothers sit and watch their children dance.
“One is battling cancer, and we all give her support. It is like family,” she said.
They have since moved on to produce their much-anticipated annual spring concerts at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth.
“There is an 8-year waiting list, so we are so happy to be locked in every spring,” he said.
Some of the more memorable productions have been their “Giselle,” Swan Lake” and “Carmen” to name but a few.
But in honor of their 20th production, Michael has choreographed an original ballet called “The Rainbow King” that was inspired in part by their friend and artist Thom Klika, who was known for his Pop Art trademark rainbows.
“We actually met Thom first in the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco in the 1960s. He was a primitive artist but with amazing talent. But his favorite subject was the rainbow,” Michael said.
NADT’s story is a fable that begins with a young couple in love and betrothed who live in a world of dazzling color. But there is trouble in this kingdom when evil goblins steal all the color in their world and leave everything drab and gray.
This is where Kitty Garrison gets excited because she is the “choreographer of color” for the production. She oversees the elaborate costumes and scenery – with the most enormous budget ever for an NATD production.
“The costumes alone are $30,000. But it will be an amazing thing to see,” she said.
When the young couple is celebrating their coming nuptials, that is when the goblins strike.
“And in an instant all of the color in the country vanishes right onstage before the audience’s eyes,” Kitty said. “It will be a spectacular effect.”
Of course the heroes must follow the Goblins and return the color to their world.
It is a huge cast and the sets are the most elaborate for NADT ever.
“We actually have dancers on stilts who will be performing as trees in the dark forest where the goblins are hiding all the colors,” she said. “It will be a feast for the eyes.”
The goblin heads are being molded by artisans who also work for Walt Disney. Kitty said the masks are permeable to light and air so wearers will be able to see and breathe while wearing them.
With a cast of 50 it will be not only the most expensive show the company has done but the most populous also.
“Everything is being made locally. We have an unbelievable costume maker, Valerie Gruner. She does beautiful work. And the costumes she is making for us will allow the audience to see the colors literally torn from the backs of the dancers,” Kitty said.
Of course many volunteers are involved too. Parts of the sets are built by volunteers. One of the parents is building two great thrones in his basement. Meanwhile the grandmother of lead dancer Julia Patterson designed the art for the program and posters.
Nick Hagelin, a finalist on TV’s “The Voice,” is the male lead.
The score was meticulously pieced together from dozens of works.
“I put the score together from every piece of classical music, I think,” said Michael. “When I decided to do a ballet after meeting Thom, I wrote the libretto two days after I got the idea.
“It only took me 20 years to bring it to fruition,” he said.
But now is the time and here is the place. Patrons can get a sneak preview at the “Rainbow King” gala Feb. 19 (see box).
“It would make a really different sort of Valentine’s gift,” said Kitty.