Ballet and gospel music combine for 'Divine' world-premiere

When Dr. Kevin Johnson sits down at a piano and begins writing music, he’s never quite sure where the melody will eventually go.

“You know, I don’t know.  As a composer, you write it and go, ‘Okay, set it free and see what it becomes.’”

In the case of his newest creation, “what it becomes” is a soul-stirring, world-premiere dance piece for Atlanta Ballet.

Dr. Johnson’s Sunrise Divine is one of three works making up Atlanta’s Ballet’s February program, collectively titled Heart/Beat: Gospel, Brubeck & Rhythms of the City.  Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin says he wanted to find someone to create music for an original piece rooted in gospel.

“I did my search, and I found Spelman Glee Club, that created beautiful music based on tradition and gospel,” he says.

Dr. Kevin Johnson is director of the world-renowned Spelman College Glee Club, and says getting the call to work on what would become Sunrise Divine felt divine: “‘Are you interested in writing a piece for the Atlanta Ballet?’ And I’m, like, ‘First of all…yes!’”

Sunrise Divine opens and closes with newly-composed music, bookending songs that trace the progression of gospel music.  The music will be sung live during performances (by members of the Spelman College Glee Club, Golden Gate Singers, and soloists including Lydia Pace), and the choreography has been created by Dwight Rhoden, famed choreographer and co-founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

As for the message behind Sunrise Divine, the composer says he hopes audiences walk away with a sense of hope.  “The water will be troubled. It’s not going to be this smooth thing,” says Johnson. “The message of the piece is, no pun intended, we can find a peace in the midst of the water raging.”

Heart/Beat: Gospel, Brubeck & Rhythms of the City will be performed at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on February 7-9 and 14-15.  For showtimes and ticket information, click here.