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Four Seasons/Eden Eden׀


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#1 Drew

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Posted 29 October 2011 - 07:27 PM

This is long: call it making up for years of ignoring the company (of which "ignoring" I say something at the end).

The Atlanta Ballet has put together a rather ambitious season this year including a Tharp world premier. The opening program took place last week at the Cobb Energy Center. It was made up of two ballets: Kudelka's Four Seasons -- which the company had danced two years ago -- and Mcgregor's Eden Eden. The former is set to Vivaldi (live music for these performances) and is a very engaging, though rather tonally predictable cycle-of-life allegory with a central male figure surrounded by a small and usually somewhat individuated ensemble (an effect Ratmansky was widely praised for in Concerto DSCH) and having a different 'love relationship' pas de deux to match each one of the four 'seasons' of his life. Spring innocence, summer sensuality, fall maturity, winter decay and death etc. (I did a search and it has been written about before on Ballet Alert!).

The most unexpected choreographic detail was the rather literal approach to winter -- not only featuring older dancers including company director John Mcfall, but also someone wearing their everyday glasses. That's a "bravo" you hear from very-near-sighted and has-problems-with-contacts me.The male lead's dancing in Winter also includes rather literal gestures invoking back pain, chest pain etc. John Walker was the lead and it's a tribute to his poise that these gestures did not make the audience giggle.

Perhaps the best thing about the performance I saw was the joyful and loving devotion brought to the choreography by every dancer on stage. The scenic projections were also lovely. Less appealing to me were the costumes. Program notes spoke generally of the ballet combining older baroque elements with contemporary ones and that is obviously what the costumes were trying to convey...but I found the effect very distracting. Several women in the spring ensemble had leotards with long sleeves cut to evoke pre-20th-century 'historical' styles and skirts, cut out in the front, also evidently suggestion older styles of dress, while other women wore only the leotards and historically themed sleeves: it looked for all the world as if the company had run out of money in the middle of preparing the production and had to skimp on the skirts. In other movements, some women wore slacks with yoga stripes but then had stylized blouses with high collars evoking the 'baroque.' For my taste, it just clashed. And not in an interesting way.

As good as the dancers were, they were not always at ease negotiating the sudden speeding up of the choreography to match the shifts in the Vivaldi--and some of the more complex partnering looked as if everyone was concentrating very hard. That vitiated some of the erotic emotion of the ballet, but was I think largely made up for by the overall investment in the ballet by all of the dancers. I was sitting very close and noticed a number of them in the ensemble with distinctive, lovely qualities--one showed unusual ballon, another lush sensuality, another what I can only call delight. I am eager to get to know these dancers better.

Still, given their slight difficulties with some of the challenges of the Kudelka in the choreography's faster passages I was a bit dubious the dancers could handle McGregor: but by and large they did what seemed to me a very good job--one small woman in particular danced with all of the appropriately cool and slightly aggressive 'attitude' that the choreography seems to call for. I do think they sometimes lacked the full musical and bodily precision that it needs.

Eden Eden has McGregor's trademark very fast, very extreme, very rhythmically pounding choreography. (I believe it, too, has been reviewed on Ballet Alert before.) My companion, who has been going to the ballet for a few years now -- i.e. since meeting me -- did not like it at all and described the dancers as looking like "worms writhing in earth."

I can't really argue with that, but will say that, for me, the jury is out on McGregor. Certainly compared with what has been on offer from the Atlanta ballet in recent seasons (Dracula), I will take it. That does not exactly mean I think it belongs at the Royal Ballet...Though, in fact, the only McGregor I had seen before was at a Linbury studio performance and the dancers were Cojocaru and (I think) Kobborg. Let's just say with Cojocaru it looked very, very, very good and nothing if not precise.

Eden Eden is set to a Steve Reich opera on the theme of cloning and robotics. In fact, my companion criticized this as well as the dancing, objecting to the leap from clones to robots. I was prepared to defend that particular leap. However, the score's voice overs concerning the challenge posed by cloning and robotics to our understanding of the human (what the human 'is,' its relation to technology--or indeed its being as technology etc.) were, in their way, almost as predictable as Kudelka's cycle of life allegory. That is, they could have been more interesting, though I have to admit that had they gotten too interesting they might have become a distraction, instead of, as it were, simply 'framing' the choreography...

There are four couples--each emerging from below the stage in stylized hairless quasi-nudity, and each growing into and beyond their own bodies and encountering each other in increasingly intense passages in the opening passages of the ballet; at a crucial point they assume clothing and hair (it's done very simply and effectively with tunics dropping from the ceiling) and presumably, therefore, as the program notes suggest, sexual identity. I found it pretty engrossing and then....a scrim came down and sort of wrecked my concentration.

Why exactly? Well, I don't much care for dancing behind scrims but the real problem was that once the scrim came down I could not see the dancers below the top of their ankles which completely threw me out of the performance. I believe the purpose of the scrim was to permit an array of increasingly extreme lighting effects to be projected over the stage picture without, say, endangering the dancers and also to increase--as indeed did the mere fact of a scrim--the general image of dehumanization (or, as I would prefer to think, re-imagining of what humanization is). I can't quite say if it worked or not based on this one performance, especially having lost the dancers feet and thus, too, the sense of their contact with the floor--but Alwin Nikolais was way ahead on this sort of thing in any case. Nonetheless, I'm glad the Atlanta Ballet acquired Eden Eden and would not mind seeing them dance more McGregor.

Indeed my one complaint about the program is that it was rather short. It could easily have fit another 20-25 minute ballet on the program and have stayed within the 2 1/2 hour mark. Perhaps there are economic considerations? Certainly I very much appreciated the live music for the Vivaldi. I also know just the choreographer who would have made a perfect fit with this program. Would it be too much to hope that the company would once again take seriously their early history as a Balanchine offshoot? When I first got to Atlanta I saw that they proudly posted on their website a critic's praise for McFall's leadership in getting rid of the "dusty" Balanchine repertory. For those wondering why I do not often show myself supportive of my local company on Ballet Alert, start there...

Later this season the repertory includes Elo and Wheeldon as well as the new Tharp. I am pleased by these developments...Now, would one Balanchine ballet a season be too much to ask?

#2 annamicro

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Posted 30 October 2011 - 09:27 AM

the only McGregor I had seen before was at a Linbury studio performance and the dancers were Cojocaru and (I think) Kobborg. Let's just say with Cojocaru it looked very, very, very good and nothing if not precise.


maybe Engram with Federico Bonelli?

#3 bart

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Posted 30 October 2011 - 09:44 AM

Thanks, Drew, for calling attention to this program and the Atlanta company.

Perhaps the best thing about the performance I saw was the joyful and loving devotion brought to the choreography by every dancer on stage.

I'm beginning to feel that this is a quality -- not always found in the biggest and grandest companies Posted Image -- that often makes watching regional companies very worthwhile and enjoyable. (Based on Alistair Macaulay's review of a recent Kansas City Ballet performance, I'd add that company to the list too.)

The Atlanta season sounds ambitious, in its own way. Wayne MacGregor, James Kudelka, and Twyla Twarp are worth paying attention to . I hope others who were there for this program -- or who have seen the company recently or planning to see something in the coming season -- will post here as well.

Here's a link to their website, which includes some interesting videos, along with photos of Tharp working on The Princess and the Goblin, a co-production with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

http://www.atlantaballet.com/

#4 Drew

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Posted 30 October 2011 - 10:21 AM


the only McGregor I had seen before was at a Linbury studio performance and the dancers were Cojocaru and (I think) Kobborg. Let's just say with Cojocaru it looked very, very, very good and nothing if not precise.


maybe Engram with Federico Bonelli?


Than sounds right--it was linked to his (Mcgregor's) work on studies of the brain and part of an Ashton tribute program...I think, though, that Cojocaru did something else with Kobborg on the same program...


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