April 11th, 2008
01:57 PM ET

Coming up 'big'

Did "big" make a difference?

(Clockwise from top left) Lil' Brotha, Scar, Khujo Goodie, Janelle Monae and Sam Chris arrive at "big."

The new ballet, a collaboration between OutKast's Antwan "Big Boi" Patton and the Atlanta Ballet, premiered Thursday night to a packed house at Atlanta's 4,500-seat Fox Theater. The idea of pairing one of hip-hop's biggest stars with the often staid world of the ballet was innovative enough - but how would the audience react?

During the intermission hip-hop fans said the night would be a critical turning point for the artistic community. One man echoed a sentiment I heard throughout the night, saying it was time to "take the stigma of hip-hop off the streets and back onto the stage."

The night was pivotal to the ballet regulars, too. Many said the ballet community was feeling a lag, with attendance numbers dropping and a lack of enthusiasm. If putting a hip-hop star on stage performing with a live band reinvigorated the ballet community, most were all for it.

One 75-year-old woman I spoke to observed she had no idea who Big Boi was or what any of his songs were saying - but it didn't matter. Seeing a room filled with children, teens and young adults at the ballet. ­That was priceless, she said.

Indeed, one of the most telling signs of "big's" success was the number of families in the audience. As parents ushered their kids to their seats, one father told me he never goes to the ballet; his wife and daughters usually go, but he and the boys stay at home. But tonight, he said, he was going to be there.

The audience's enthusiasm was evident throughout the evening. It seemed if the crowd would jump up any moment to dance along with the show, which at times gave off more of a concert vibe than a ballet. Stifled by perhaps the more subdued atmosphere of the Fox, many chose instead to dance in their seats.

And no classical show I've ever been to has ended with the cast on stage and some of the youngest performers tearing it up with their freestyle dance. As the entire audience rose to its feet, howling and applauding, Big Boi broke out one of OutKast's biggest hits: "I Like the Way You Move." Move they sure did, and moving it was.

- Mallory Simon, CNN.com Writer

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