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Drew

Return to Fall

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For a preview article on Atlanta Ballet's opening program of the 2018-19 season, AJC has a nice feature on Robert Barnett and his history at Atlanta Ballet as he is works with Atlanta Ballet dancers on Tchaikovsky pas de deux for the upcoming "Return to Fall" program:

"At 93, Barnett is doing what he loves best — teaching and coaching dancers. Having set Balanchine ballets on numerous companies in recent years, he is restaging work on Atlanta Ballet company members for the first time in 21 years for this weekend’s production, 'Return to Fall.' [...]

"Barnett’s ties with Balanchine, one of the 20th century’s most influential ballet figures, help connect the next generation of dancers with Atlanta Ballet’s past as well as the history of American ballet."

And this quote from Barnett regarding Tchaikovsky pas de deux in particular: "'“It’s not calm, with a bunch of commas,' he later explained, 'There are exclamation points all through it'.”

Here is a link to the whole piece:  https://www.myajc.com/entertainment/arts--theater/former-leader-plays-role-atlanta-ballet-prepares-for-new-season/fLhFscKlDlrNtSiPLK9hFP/

 

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I believe it's a tad déclassé for a serious ballet fan to get overexcited about fouettés but when--at this afternoon's performance of Atlanta Ballet's Return to Fall program--I saw a Don Quixote pas de deux in which Airi Igarashi executed fouettés of a quality I would have been delighted to see at the Metropolitan Opera House with, say, ABT, you can bet I got overexcited. After executing the first half as a series of singles alternating with doubles at good speed with a more than decent upper body--all traveling downstage evenly in a controlled straight line, right down the center--she went into the second half of the series doing singles smack on the beat while the audience started clapping rhythmically (just as one hears Russian audiences often do). I must admit I was so delighted I joined in...In fact, her whole performance was very good--for example, she was able to make something of the échappés in her variation etc. And it was already clear from the adagio that she was a confident turner. Huge cheers from me. After the performance it did cross my mind to wonder if she had competition experience; checking her company bio in the program I see that she won a competition in Japan in 2011 and was a semi-finalist at the Prix de Lausanne in 2013 and 2015. Anyway, I think she is a dancer, not just a turner or 'competition dancer,' and I am very much looking forward to seeing more of her.

It has been some years since Atlanta Ballet performed a Fall program before Nutcracker season got underway--hence the moniker "Return to Fall" with its other curious connotations not just seasonal but dance-wise; I'm glad they have been able to add this program, though I believe it will be repeated in April at a different Atlanta area venue--so I don't think there will be a "new" program in April. (I attend performances at the Cobb Energy Center. In April Atlanta Ballet will be dancing at a new performing arts center in Sandy Springs.) 

The program began with Kylian's Return to a Strange Land. I had thought this was new to me, but after a short video feature talking about the ballet as a response to the Stuttgart's "return" to their home theater after Cranko's unexpected death I suspected that I had seen this before with the Stuttgart, and once the curtain came up was certain of it.  I remember the ballerina turning fluidly on her knees in particular.  This ballet is now performed all over the world.  I find it very effective and moving; as a Kylian "classic" I prefer it to Petite Mort--it seems to me to go deeper and watching it, and remembering what interest I and other ballet fans I knew felt when Kylian's work first appeared on the international scene, I found myself thinking 'no wonder we were so excited.' Among dancers of the cast I saw I thought Jessica He and Jonathan Philbert (new to the company) did the most to invest the choreography with layers of emotion as well as physical facility. I believe the emotion is there in the choreography and its relation to the music, but does need the dancers to bring it out most effectively.

The central portion of the program was made up of three pas de deux beginning with Tchaikovsky pas de deux staged by Robert Barnett. Happily, one could also see Barnett in the audience, sitting next to Gennadi Nedvigin. As anyone reading this post likely knows he was a onetime dancer with New York City Ballet who came to direct Atlanta Ballet during its transition to being a fully professional company and had Balanchine's permission to stage his ballets. I am quite pleased Nedvigin brought Barnett in. Not just in principle--I'm happy with the results too.

This was a soft, graceful performance by Emily Carrico and Igor Leushin and Mr. Drew's favorite work of the program as well as one of mine. (I liked the Kylian much more than Mr. Drew did and, as noted above, very much enjoyed Igarashi's performance in Don Q pas de deux.) This Tchaikovsky pas de deux wasn't hard hitting (a good thing). Having recently seen the ballet danced by Bouder and De Luz I can't say I found it particularly dazzling either, but I did think it had warmth and a very lovely and appealing flow. As Odile last season in the stand-alone Act III of Swan Lake the company performed, Carrico had seemed hard edged at times and slow.  It's a little mean to say but I kind of dreaded seeing her in Balanchine, but it turned out to be very smart casting because either the ballet itself or Barnett's coaching seems to have brought out a much more flowing and, though not super-speedy, still much faster Carrico than any that I, at least, had seen before. I found the performance enjoyable and will be happy to see how her dancing develops. 

The next pas de deux was a performance by two guest artists from the Czech National Ballet (Miho Ogimoto and Michal Štípa) of a pas de deux from Bigonzetti's Vertigo. (Atlanta Ballet has some vague language in its publicity about a collaboration with this company.) The dancers were excellent and the by now familiar-to-ballet-goers Shostakovitch music very beautiful. But this kind of anguished contemporary coitus choreography will never be my favorite. Perhaps if I saw the entire ballet, I wouldn't be quite so cavalier ... The concluding pas de deux of the three was the Don Q. with Igarashi and Sergio Masero-Olarte.

The final ballet on the program was a big ensemble piece--a very lively premier by Ricardo Amarante, who has been resident choreographer and artistic associate at the Astana Ballet. (That's from his program bio.) The ballet celebrates its ensemble of 18 dancers but has different dancers featured in little vignettes or episodes of the choreography. Amarante has spoken so warmly of his experience with the company I hesitate to respond with anything other than equal warmth, but I had a mixed reaction to this.

The title of the work is "The Premier" with the subtitle "Class. Rehearsal. Performance" and I think I expected something with more of a narrative like Wheeldon's Variations Serieuses. In the event, it had rather less narrative than that and I personally found its little thread of narrative hard to follow; I should say that by attending matinees I rarely see the premier or opening night casts, so possibly the dancers I saw hadn't had quite the same chance to work out their roles as the Friday night cast. Anyway, the "classroom" part of the ballet was so theatricalized I wasn't sure whether it had morphed into rehearsal until I saw the dancers stop to applaud and shake out their muscles and then realized that was probably supposed to be the end of class; the rehearsal section had some gags I could have lived without (competitive female dancers who seem to be fighting over partners) and some that seemed amusing enough (6-7 pairs of dancers lined up in shoulder lifts, and when just one pair gets the lift wrong, they all come tumbling down). I did very much appreciate that none of the gags was underlined or punched hard for the laugh; they weren't even treated as gags but just seemed to happen--as they might at rehearsal--and then the dancers immediately regrouped. For my taste, that was actually the best aspect of how Amarante developped his material.

New skirts that appeared on the women seemed to signify the ballet had gotten to "performance," but since most of the bodices still looked like rehearsal wear I wasn't entirely sure. Also the set/drop was kind of an arena theater as if the  "premier" performance was to be aimed opposite to the actual audience, but the choreography only once or twice treated it that way. Just generally, I never felt I could quite orient myself in the ballet.

It may be I was just a little slow in response -- that others "got" the choreography better than I, but for me it was also confusing on the eye. Individual bits of choreography featured dancers in appealing ways and the overall energy was good, but I could probably take a pass on seeing this a second time. Several dancers did stand out, notably Nikolas Gaifullin whom I find to be consistently one of the most impressive dancers in the company. It didn't hurt that he was given some very flashy bits of choreography--and indeed was the one dancer to draw individual applause in the middle of the ballet which really didn't pause for applause. 

On the subject of applause: though the ballet was warmly received at the end, applause seemed to me warmest for earlier works on the program including the Balanchine and Petipa which were both just as warmly received or rather more so than the Kylian and certainly more warmly received than the--certainly well-received--Bigonzetti. Audience applause isn't a sacred measure of course, but in this case, it reflected my own reactions.

 To coin a phrase: classical ballet--if you build it, they will come.

I know I write a lot--for one thing it helps seal my memory of the performances I see--but I am always eager and curious to hear from others who see Atlanta Ballet.

Edited by Drew
More precision/factual correction

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Thanks for this lovely report, Drew. I'm always so pleased to see that great dancing is being shown by the regional companies that are so often overlooked. And if some of it was sub-par, if I dare say so, we have seen plenty of sub-par performances at Lincoln Center over the years, too. These companies provide professional performing opportunities to so many dancers. I suspect most of that audience will never see ballet at Lincoln Center themselves, but do get to experience the thrill of live performance at their local companies. They deserve our support.

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5 minutes ago, California said:

Thanks for this lovely report, Drew. I'm always so pleased to see that great dancing is being shown by the regional companies that are so often overlooked.

Yes...

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That's great programming. Barnett is wonderful and I'm glad you got to see the spirit of the work in Tch Pdd.  Last 1.5 I saw missed the mark. Next might be the most expensive 8 minutes of theatre in my life. 

Edited by maps

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17 hours ago, maps said:

 Barnett is wonderful and I'm glad you got to see the spirit of the work in Tch Pdd.  Last 1.5 I saw missed the mark. Next might be the most expensive 8 minutes of theatre in my life. 

Hope it's a great performance then...

I had a factual error in what I wrote above that I just edited out--The Kylian that the Bolshoi recently took into its repertory is "Forgotten Land."

Edited by Drew

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I am a former professional ballet dancer so I am really picky when I see ballet performances. I have been teaching at pre pro schools since 1980 so I have involved with ballet for a very long time! I just moved to the Atlanta area a year ago so this was only the 2nd time I saw them perform. I went to the Sat night performance. We sat up in the mezzanine and I was sorry to see it wasn't very crowded.

I did like the Kylian piece- interesting lifts and I thought the dancers looked good. I was looking forward to the Balanchine especially since this is the only ballet they will be doing of his the whole year. I saw Jessica He and a new dancer, Ivan Tarakanov. Technically they were fine, but just didn't have the Balanchine attack. I don't know if it was the coaching or what....The fish dive at the end was not a dive- way too safe. I moved from Sarasota and used to teach there and they did a lot of Balanchine with Sandy Jennings setting the ballets. I think it would have been more authentic if she had coached them. He is a left turner so did all pirouettes, etc to the left. She was lovely, but I missed the Balanchine style. I was in NYC in the 70's and saw McBride and Villella and Violette Verdy perform this all the time.....

Did not particularly like the piece the Czech dancers performed but I  am not into modern pieces. My boyfriend enjoyed that the best- he has no dance experience.

I saw Jessica Assef and Nikolas Gaifullin in Don Q. I saw her last season in Swan Lake and thought she was terribly boring in the role. Same with this- not much "flair" but technique ok. He is a fireball. I liked him last season too and he is from Sarasota!

Last piece I didn't like except for appreciating the dancers.  A lot of it was- done that already like Drew said. Even if I don't like the choreography, I can enjoy the dancers. When the music started it wasn't too loud but when the violin concerto and Capriccioso started, it was ear splitting. Miss having an orchestra.

Don't like most of the rest of the season but will probably go to La Sylphide. Can't handle another Nut and there are quite a few modern pieces coming up during the year which I don't want to see. I do miss the rep of Sarasota Ballet.

 

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Thanks for your review. It's always valuable to me to read others seeing the company...

Gaifullin is just wonderful...probably my favorite dancer in the company right now, though I certainly have my eye on Airi Igarashi after this weekend and Nadia Mara is, as it were, a long-time favorite.

19 minutes ago, balletgirl22sk said:

Don't like most of the rest of the season but will probably go to La Sylphide. Can't handle another Nut and there are quite a few modern pieces coming up during the year which I don't want to see. I do miss the rep of Sarasota Ballet.

 

As you probably know from the press, the Atlanta Ballet repertory was even more oriented to contemporary work in the years prior to Nedvigin coming here in 2016. (Though it was always somewhat eclectic.)

Sarasota Ballet has built up such an outstanding repertory -- and with the Ashton specialists at the helm to make that repertory come alive -- I'm not surprised you miss it.

19 minutes ago, balletgirl22sk said:

 

Last piece I didn't like except for appreciating the dancers.  A lot of it was- done that already like Drew said. Even if I don't like the choreography, I can enjoy the dancers. When the music started it wasn't too loud but when the violin concerto and Capriccioso started, it was ear splitting. Miss having an orchestra.

I'm hoping there will be an orchestra for Sylphide as there was for Don Quixote last year.

 

Edited by Drew

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