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"Gennadi's Choice" Program


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Atlanta Ballet has already performed Nutcracker and a two weekend run of Carmina Burana this year. (I attended and enjoyed both very much)--but this weekend's program was publicized as introducing Nedvigin's vision for Atlanta Ballet's future--which, as I understand it, is grounded in classical tradition but aims to include twentieth-century classics and contemporary work building on classical tradition. I attended the Sat matinee and the house was very thin indeed, though I will say the audience responded warmly to the dancers


What interests me at Atlanta Ballet and what's good for Atlanta Ballet are not necessarily the same thing, but certainly for my taste this was a substantive and entertaining program of exactly the kind I would be happy to see more of--a mixed bill that combined traditional nineteenth-century choreography (Excerpts from the Grand Pas from Pacquita), work by a newly prominent or if you will "hot" ballet choregrapher (Liam Scarlett's Vespertine), and a world premier by a relatively novice ballet choreographer (Gemma Bond).  Adding additional interest to the program in terms of giving Atlanta a "distinctive" stamp would be the fact that Vespertine has not been seen in North America before.


The Grand Pas from Pacquita is a work that has the happiest associations for me, though I haven't seen it often. It's a pure festival of classical dancing with just a whiff of Spanish flavoring.  To my (amateur) eyes, the Atlanta Ballet corps looked as if they had been given good guidance on how to hold themselves and present the choreography. With the cast I saw--not the "opening night" cast--it was fairly obvious that many of the featured dancers were being stretched -- and a few of them had awkward moments or even got into real trouble. But there were some highlights too: I especially enjoyed Nadia Mara in the pas de trois; she danced a variation with bright petite allegro and looked charmingly at ease and confident. And I loved Alessa Rogers in the first of the supplemental variations (three in this production that are featured in addition to the pas de trois and the variations of the two leads).  Rogers danced the variation that begins slowly, even luxuriantly and then builds. I can hear the music in my head but can't type it. Anyway, she was absolutely magical. She always seemed to be really in the moment of the dancing -- this may have been an illusion of course; but instead of a pasted on smile there was a gentle relaxed smile that seemed to change and vary with the different rhythms of the music as if she were really listening as she channeled the music through the choreography. She glows (like a ballerina) but doesn't "sell" anything, almost seems to be dancing for herself. Wonderful.  Though he was a little more uneven I was also intrigued by Alexander Souza who danced in the pas de trois.


I should, say, too, that at one point Jackie Nash in the ballerina role was pulling out all the stops by actually giving us close to 32 fouettes (I counted 29) with barely any traveling at all, but unfortunately she lost control at the very, very end and sort of fell backwards out of them. Still got a huge cheer and I suspect that when this same cast made a second pass at their roles the next day, a lot of the kinks would have been worked out. 


Here and there Scarlett's Vespertine reminded me a bit of his Acheron--the extremely dark lighting and some of the complex (and, to my eyes, slightly obscene looking) lifts. It is set to a collage of different baroque scores and though in the little video introduction he is seen emphasizing the role of the music in creating the "arc" of the ballet, I assume he must have played a role in deciding how to assemble the different snippets. That is, he wasn't just following the score; he played a role in putting it together. He created Vespertine for the Norwegian ballet and it was (he said) intended for an evening of baroque works, The dancers had costumes suggestive --  in a very simplified, stylized way -- of Baroque dress, that were then cast off to show them in pale near nudity or leotard simulated nudity. The choreography often pointed to a kind of low (and not so low) boil of emotions/conflict underneath the formal encounters--so I took it the idea was indeed to show all the emotions being at once contained and let loose in the knot of baroque or pseudo baroque forms. Almost all the pas de deux were male/female but right towards the middle of the ballet came a pas de deux for two men in semi-undress that was at times ambivalent to the point of violence but also full of tenderness. I almost suspected that the real "nakedness" Scarlett wanted to express beneath the formal dress was that moment of same-sex desire--it certainly was one of the ballet's more emotionally charged episodes. 


The choreography itself seemed to blend ballet and modern dance techniques in the manner of "contemporary" or "eclectic" dance--in fact it occasionally made me think of Glen Tetley. (That's a distant memory so I won't swear by it, but it is what I thought of...)  Like almost every other Scarlett ballet I have seen the stage was extremely shadowy.  The sets included about 10 great rounded, modernist "chandeliers" and in different dance episodes different numbers of them were "lit" or darkened, though of course they were not the source for the actual lighting of the stage. But even when every single one was "lit" the lighting scheme remained very dark and shadowy. This is my least favorite trend in ballet and it could be seen in the lighting for  Gemma Bond's premier as well.  (Balanchine can "darken" the mood of a ballet with a STEP.) 


Complaints about lighting notwithstanding, I was very impressed with Gemma Bond's Denouement which came second on the program. Choreographed to a (not obviously "dance-friendly") Benjamin Britten sonata for cello and piano, it was the one work on the program performed to live music. (I believe every other Atlanta Ballet program this season will have live music.) Bond, as people reading this probably know, dances at ABT; By way of another ABT connection to this work, James Whiteside designed the costumes which are loosely suggestive of street clothes.


In the little introductory video that preceded the ballet Bond spoke of being inspired by Adam Phillips' Missing Out, a book exploring the ways our lives are shadowed by lives we might have lived. I was impressed by her musical and intellectual sophistication, but if I hadn't heard her speak I'm not sure I would have gotten the whole point from just the choreography. Though I might have inferred that this was a ballet about choices and, maybe, memory--and that does seem close enough. Three couples open the ballet in what I at first thought was a little generically angsty choreography--fluent enough but not quite grabbing my interest. But once Bond was underway, and especially when she started differentiating the different soloists and finding the "dance" possibilities in the somewhat stark music, well, it was quite gripping. Somehow at once physically exciting, but also having an at times introspective feel. A lot of contemporary choreography comes across to me like a strangely depersonalized perpetual motion machine. THIS did not--everything felt motivated. I am very interested in seeing how Bond develops. And I think her home company could do a lot worst than give her some opportunities.

I thought the dancers in Denouement were terrific--the women especially tore up the stage (Nadia Mara, Kiara Felder, and also Laura Morton who, according to the program, is still an apprentice). All in all, a very satisfying program with some great dancing.



Edited by Drew
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Sounds like you are a happy camper, Drew. I have to agree about the lighting choices for Scarlett (and quite a few other modern works). I'm not crazy about the costume or music choices that Scarlett works with either, but I realize it's all about working with contemporary artists, such as they are.

It's good to hear that the Gemma Bond piece was a success.

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