Going Deeper: Helen Pickett Choreographs Her First Full-Length Ballet in Atlanta

Helen Pickett and dancers from Atlanta Ballet in rehearsal for The Exiled. Photo by Charlie McCullers, Courtesy AB,

Atlanta Ballet's resident choreographer Helen Pickett has embarked on a new challenge: choreographing her first full-length ballet, Camino Real, inspired by the 1953 Tennessee Williams play and set to premiere in March at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

"The play is about intrusion on personal freedom," says Pickett. It's set in a town called Camino Real—a dusty dead end surrounded by desert and populated by figures from Western culture, including Don Quixote and Lord Byron. "You're not sure where or when the story occurs," Pickett says. "Williams created this surreal place where there's room to find yourself within the play. For me, that's the crux of interesting storytelling."


After years of making more abstract work, like her widely performed ballet Petal, Pickett has lately been drawn to the narrative support that text offers. "I needed a new direction," she says, "and I realized that the anchor of words is a wonderful choreographic boon."

Camino Real will feature theatrical elements traditionally absent from ballet: Five dancers will speak throughout the piece and certain moments will take place in the theater's house, breaking the fourth wall between audience and dancers. "I feel like Camino Real was made for dance," she says. "Tennessee Williams' stage direction is just unreal—I can apply what he wrote directly to my ballet." Pickett also plans to feature performers in character, in the lobby before the show begins. "I've built a trusting relationship with Atlanta Ballet dancers, and I can deepen where I want to go with movement," she says.

In her third and final season with the company, Pickett is looking ahead to a 2016 premiere at Smuin Ballet and a new project with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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