BY CYNTHIA BOND PERRY / FOR THE AJC
Heath Gill has played some robust characters in his five-year career with Atlanta Ballet, but none quite like Kilroy, the former light heavyweight boxing champion who lands in the eerie port town of Camino Real.
It’s Gill’s first time to originate a lead role in a world premiere, choreographer Helen Pickett’s first full-length ballet and one of her first narrative works. Inspired by Tennessee Williams’ 1953 play by the same title, “Camino Real” opens Friday at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
Gill’s all-American demeanor — curly red hair, comedic sense and a face that’s a window on his emotions — make a strong match for Kilroy, based on patriotic World War II-era iconography. Unlike previous parts including Mercutio in “Roméo et Juliette” and Jonathan Harker in “Dracula,” this is Gill’s first role (since his early musical theater days) that requires voice-acting.
The play’s surreal aspects require him to deeply understand Kilroy’s psyche. Motivation behind every action must be clear, since metaphors and layered meanings arise at every turn.
“He has this tough-guy kind of attitude,” Gill said of Kilroy, “but deep down inside, his heart is as big as the head of a baby.”
Kilroy’s heart is as much his weakness as his noblest quality. A fighter to the end, he reintroduces hope, passion and compassion to a place where it’s long been forgotten.
Under heavy-handed authority of hotel proprietor Gutman, Kilroy finds camaraderie with Jacques Casanova, an aging lothario who’s found enduring love with fading courtesan Marguerite Gautier. Kilroy falls for Esmeralda, a gypsy’s daughter, who, like Kilroy, wants to escape the walled city.
Gill thinks “Camino” will “hit home” in different ways with every audience member. He hopes people will come away “having delved a little deeper into themselves.”
8 p.m. March 20-21, 2 p.m. March 21-March 22. $23-$124. 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 404-892-3303, www.atlantaballet.com.