The 27 Club is probably not a club you'd want to join. To be a member, you must be a celebrity who's died at the age of 27 — usually from drug- or alcohol-related accidents.
But Jerylann Warner, artistic director of Atlanta's Gathering Wild Dance Company, thinks that the real curse of the 27 Club members — like Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Amy Winehouse — is that they're more often remembered for their hard-partying ways than for their contributions to the world. And Warner wants to shift that focus by paying tribute to these artists.
Warner says that although there's a lot of storytelling mixed in with the choreography in 27, she doesn't allude to how the artists died. The stories are all happy and inspiring, portraying the brilliance of each artist. "It was such a potent endeavor for me to live with these artists," she says. "What better a challenge for a choreographer to not just mimic the music but really invoke who [the artists] were and what their message was and put it in dance."
It's evident that Warner did her homework on her subjects. "Kurt Cobain was such a sensitive soul, and he was in so much pain, and that emotional pain was directly expressed in his music," Warner explains. She pored over Cobain's journal for excerpts read to her dancers in preparation for the show. She gushes at Morrison's understanding of the spirit and consciousness before Western society knew what meditation was, and Joplin's grasp of ecology before it was a widespread notion. She mentions how Hendrix used music as a universal language. She wants to be their crusader.
"You don't get to do this without being very different and without really stepping to the beat of another drummer," she says, noting that she believes the deaths of the five were quickened by how "accelerated" their lives were — so she just stayed on that positive note when choreographing.
The entire 27 Project, as it was called during rehearsals, was co-conceived with visual artist Rachel Jackson. The artist blogged on the company's website during rehearsals, creating paintings that were shown at the premiere at the Variety Theater in Atlanta two years ago.
Warner says she'll never be bored with these artists, and that infatuation is sure to shine through in 27. "They spoke for so many people," she says, "That, to me, was so very compelling, and then I had the music to live with."