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"Tu Tu" program


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Just wanted to leave a note on the "Tu Tu" program that's taking place this weekend at Atlanta Ballet. It starts with Stanton Welch's "Tu Tu", followed by the world premiere of "blink" by longtime former Atlanta Ballet principal Tara Lee, and ends with the very fun and innovative "Minus 16" by Ohad Naharin.

We went to see this last evening (opening night for this program) and were blown away. Never having seen anything on the program before, I didn't know what to expect, but each piece was magnificent. Stanton Welch's "Tu Tu" seems to me to be a kind of personal love song to ballet. The opening and overall structure reminded me of Ashton's "Sinfonietta" with a very energetic first movement followed by a stunningly beautiful slow movement and then a fast and again more lighthearted finale. It was the second movement that amazed me the most. A solo ballerina slowly emerges from darkness and seems to reflect on her career as a ballerina with tenderness and sadness. The mood of this piece was masterfully created. It was beautifully and touchingly expressive.

After such a wonderful first ballet, I wasn't sure the next piece would be able to compare well, but it was similarly stunning. Tara Lee is unquestionably a very gifted choreographer and I look forward to her future works. This piece featured live piano (the other two are to pre-recorded music). The music is very fast for most of the piece, and the dancers move quickly, often performing very short vignettes. The piece builds in emotional intensity, with the configurations of the dancers becoming much more complex towards the end (reminiscent of some of Balanchine's body-sculptures with multiple figures). I found it very emotional and moving towards the end, very powerful. Then it ends with a spectacular and fun climax that absolutely delighted the audience. Upon its conclusion, Tara Lee came to the stage to join the dancers and was greeted with a standing ovation.

Well, we surely thought nothing could top that, but we were wrong. Like the other pieces, I knew nothing about "Minus 16." We returned from our intermission, took our seats, and were bemused to see a man in a baggy suit and hat standing on stage in front of the curtain, twitching slightly. Over time, his twiches became more intense and it became clear that he was actually dancing (sort of). Then the curtain came up, but the house lights were still on. He danced more, hilariously and acrobatically, and the entire audience was rapt in delight. (This was Jared Tan, by the way, but most of the people sitting around me weren't even sure if he was a member of the ballet company or if he was just some guy who wandered on stage!). He was absolutely phenomenal. Then one by one other dances joined him, all twitching and dancing. 

It is impossible (for me) to describe this piece, but it is incredible and was performed so well. The powerful second act features the dancers in a large semi circle sitting on chairs, wearing suits that they slowly take off piece by piece, depicting powerful acts of (self-) violence to hard-hitting Israeli music. It made me think of Plisetskaya's Bolero. Several more very innovative dances followed. Then the dancers left the stage and entered the audience to pick members of the audience to join them on stage. This is where things went really wild. Each dancer had a partner, and they proceeded to do cha cha and swing dance all over the stage with the audience members, with the crowd going wild with delight. It's like the entire place became one big party. It was so much fun and there was so much positive energy in the building. When the piece finally ended, people couldn't stop clapping and there was an amazing buzz all around. 

I've been to a few stunning performances, but this was the most fun and overall aesthetic enjoyment I've had going to the ballet since the very first time my mind was blown by ballet seeing Sleeping Beauty in the Vienna Opera House some 20+ years ago (my first real eye-opening introduction to the beauty of ballet). 

I just want to end by saying I was wondering how the Atlanta Ballet would manage under Nedvegin and the turn to more classical and neo-classical pieces, when they've been so good with contemporary pieces. I am no expert but this evening suggested to me that they can do both under him. It seems to me that those who favor more contemporary pieces and were concerned about this should have little to fear. 

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I also thought this was an enjoyable program. Tara Lee's Blink set to Brahms' Variations on a Theme of Paganini was having its premier and it was also the one ballet on the program with live music. It seemed to me a leap beyond the only one of her other works I have seen, not least musically. (The other work "the authors" was set to a recorded mix of music--several of the cuts quite familiar chestnuts.)  Towards the beginning I worried the theme and variations structure would make Blink seem too episodic, but the more it progressed the more the choreography found ways to flow through the segmentation (without ignoring it) and connect its different parts.  I note the company publicity referred to this ballet as neo-classical, but though the dancers were on pointe, to my eyes, Blink seemed to combine ballet technique with modern dance technique in a way I usually call "contemporary" or "eclectic." I did like it and if Lee's new company, which she co-founded, Terminus Modern Ballet Theater, starts performing in venues I can get to...well, I'll be there.

The dancers looked ecstatic to be dancing in Naharin's Minus 16 again--and the audience responded in kind. All three ballets on the program (Welch's Tu Tu, Blink, and Minus 16) were rather showy pieces and I thought, on the whole, everyone rose to the occasion, though certainly, at the Sunday afternoon performance I attended, the dancing in the Naharin  (ie the least classical) was the stand-out...In Tu Tu I was also glad finally to have a chance to see Sergio Masero-Olarte in a prominently featured role. He danced the "Gold Man" in Welch's Tu Tu and made a very good impression.

Since I make no bones about the fact that I very much support Nedvigin's committment to drawing the balance of Atlanta Ballet's programming a little more towards classical/neo-classical work and I never so much as bought a ticket for Dracula, I should mention that I overheard the woman next to me respond to a question from someone by saying decisively "I like the short modern works best....[giving a slight laugh] except for Dracula."

Edited by Drew
Minus 16 not 19!
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Wonderful. Thanks for sharing your experience also. I am happy that Nedvegin is leaning back towards classical/neo-classical, but I really appreciate the inclusion of new works and modern works also. This past weekend I thought was very good also, especially the 7 for 8 with the Bach, which is sublimely beautiful, and the final piece -- the world premiere of the Concerto Armonico -- which is quite a remarkable piece both of music and ballet. I feel like I would need to watch and hear that piece at least twice more to get a concept of it. The middle piece, despite being a crowd pleaser with Gershwin's music, was the least compelling for me. The few recent times I've seen the Atlanta Ballet attempt Balanchine, it just hasn't come off in my opinion. 

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